Nazi Germany (1934-36)
Unarmoured Half-Track – At Least 3 Completed
The D II series of experimental half-tracks arose from the German Army’s pursuit of motorization in the years preceding the outbreak of the Second World War. Following successful trials with prototype designs that utilized the half-track principle in the late 1920s, semi-tracked trucks and prime movers became an integral component of this overarching drive for greater strategic and tactical mobility. Capable of achieving high speeds on roads as well as traversing difficult cross-country terrain, these vehicles appeared to be an excellent means of motorizing the German Army (Reichsheer). Convinced by these many advantages, the Heeres Waffenamt (Army Ordnance Department) assigned one of their most talented engineers, Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp, the task of overseeing the development of a range of different half-tracks to fulfill the various needs of the German Army.
Having already approved the development of several designs capable of hauling heavy loads of up to five tonnes or more, in 1934 the Heeres Waffenamt initiated work on a smaller design that would be more suitable for towing lighter infantry guns and anti-tank guns. In response to these requirements for the Kleinster geländegängiger Ketten-schlepper (smallest cross-country tracked towing vehicle), the Demag firm produced small numbers of three consecutive prototype half-tracks: the D II 1, the D II 2, and the D II 3.
Known by their diminutive appellation ‘Liliput’, these comparatively small half-tracks nevertheless employed a whole host of innovative technological features that would go on to find widespread use throughout the Second World War. However, despite numerous incremental improvements across the three permutations of the D II series, the final D II 3 design still required further refinement before it could be considered suitable for series production. As a result, the overall design of the D II 3 continued to be gradually revised between 1937 and 1938, until it evolved by way of the interim D 6 into the final D 7. Classified as the Sd.Kfz.10 1-tonne half-track by the Heer, over 10,000 of the D 7 half-tracks would be produced from 1938 until the end of the Second World War.
In light of the ubiquity of its descendants, the D II 3 was a significant stage in the development of German semi-tracked prime movers. Even though the early D II designs appear to be far removed from the future Sd.Kfz.10, the underpinnings of a reliable workhorse had been established by the time the D II 3 was produced in 1936. As such, these obscure machines (of which we know very little) represent an important chapter not only in the development of German prime movers but also in the German Army’s quest to fully motorize its forces; a goal that, contrary to Nazi propaganda, would never be achieved.
Solving an Old Problem: The Motorisation of the German Army
Following Germany’s defeat at the end of the First World War in November 1918, the fledgling Weimar Republic inherited a strategic conundrum that had bedeviled generations of German military planners: how could the German armed forces defend Germany’s vast frontiers to both the east and the west with an army that was primarily reliant on railways for its mobility? Worse still for the German generals, the stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles compounded Germany’s vulnerability by placing size restrictions on the size of the military and banning the use of much of the latest military technology, including tanks. Confronted with this perennial German predicament and many hostile neighbors, the Reichsheer aimed to solve this problem by cultivating a highly mobile professional army that could rapidly respond to enemy incursions and form the nucleus of a resurrected German army capable of conducting its own offensive operations. In order to realize these strategic aspirations, the Reichsheer needed to enhance its tactical mobility. This, in turn, required one essential ingredient: the motorization of the German Army.
Correspondingly, significant emphasis was placed upon procuring motorized transportation for the Reichsheer, particularly in the form of tractors to tow artillery, in order to ensure that Germany’s limited military assets possessed the mobility to make a difference on the battlefield. These efforts culminated in the Kraftfahrüstungsprogramm (Motorisation Programme) formulated by the General Staff during 1927 and 1928. According to this initiative, the Reichsheer would specify its automotive requirements and provide technical specifications for designs that would be able to fulfill its needs. Whilst the 1920s saw many developments in this field, the Weimar Republic’s clandestine attempts to rearm in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles were accelerated with the accession of Adolf Hitler as German Chancellor in January 1933. Under the Nazi Party, which was vehemently opposed to what was perceived as the emasculating and unjust dictates of Versailles, plans to rebuild and motorize the Reichsheer were given greater priority and would eventually receive considerably more funds for research and development.
Among the many experiments in motorization undertaken by the Weimar Republic and continued by the Nazis was the development of three-quarter tracked vehicles (commonly known as half-tracks) for the purposes of carrying loads and, more importantly, towing artillery. Encouraged by earlier successes with these vehicles, Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prüf 6), the sub-division of the German Army’s ordnance department responsible for the development of tanks and motor vehicles, initiated the creation of a light, medium, and heavy class of three-quarter tracked vehicles for the Reichsheer in 1932. At first, these vehicles were identified in accordance with their load-carrying capacity, but they were later reclassified to reflect towing weights of 5 tonnes, 8 tonnes, and 12 tonnes respectively. This reorientation originates from the conceptualization of these vehicles as prime-movers for the German Army’s various artillery pieces and trailers.
One of the products of this push for the motorization of the Reichsheer was the one-tonne three-quarter tracked vehicle. Although the initial requirements for three-quarter tracked vehicles prepared by Wa Prüf 6 in 1932 had not called for anything with less than 5 tonnes of towing capacity, there were plenty of anti-tank guns and infantry guns in development during the 1930s that would benefit from motorised towing, but which did not require a tractor with a 5-tonne towing capacity. Therefore, in order to provide prime movers for these indispensable constituents of German infantry formations, Wa Prüf 6 expanded the range of three-quarter tracked vehicles in 1934 to encompass a design with a one-tonne towing capacity. It was due to this imperative of motorization that the rather odd-looking Demag D II came into being.
The Dark Ages: The Genesis of the One-Tonne Half-Track
Whilst the overarching narrative recounting the mobilization of the Reichsheer is relatively well-known, the more intricate details pertaining to each particular vehicle are, by contrast, exceedingly scant. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the all-too-typical case of the one-tonne half-tracked vehicle, of which there are no surviving primary source records from either Demag or Wa Prüf 6 concerning its early development and production. Historians of the Medieval period may resent the ‘Dark Ages’ paradigm, but it is an apt term to describe the loss of information regarding the history of many interwar German military vehicles.
Consequently, the only comprehensive source available that outlines the early history of the one-tonne three-quarter tracked vehicle is a report compiled after the war in June 1946 by the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). Entitled ‘German Semi-Tracked Vehicle Development from 1934 onwards’, this document provides a detailed overview of the history and the technical features of most of the German three-quarter tracked vehicles developed before and during the Second World War. However, the fact that the information in this report was primarily derived from post-war interviews with relevant personnel from the design firms and Wa Prüf 6, who did not have access to their records, means that it can contain significant errors and omissions. In the case of the one-tonne three-quarter tracked vehicle, the BAOR report contains only a brief synopsis of the production and technical features of the trial vehicles. Faced with this barren documentary record, there is little that can be said about the events leading up to the completion of the first Demag D II 1 sometime in 1934 or 1935.
Piecing together the evidence that is available, it is probable that the one-tonne half-track started development in 1934 as part of an effort to create a light prime mover that could advance at high speeds along paved roads and negotiate rugged terrain. The idea that the one-tonne three-quarter tracked vehicle was envisaged as a towing vehicle for light artillery, such as the leichtes Infanteriegeschütz 18 (le. IG 18) or the 3.7 cm Panzerabwehrkanone (3.7 cm Pak), is supported by a myriad of photographs showing trials vehicles hitched to these guns and their ammunition trailers, as well as the wartime use of their successors in this exact role.
Having established a need for this lightweight towing vehicle in 1934, Wa Prüf 6 contracted Demag AG, a crane manufacturing company based in Wetter an der Ruhr, to produce a series of trial vehicles (Versuchs-Fahrzeuge) incorporating their desired technical features and adhering to the prescribed specifications. Although Demag was a large industrial concern specializing in heavy equipment such as cranes and steam locomotives, this appears to have been their first project involving the development of half-tracked vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no information revealing why Demag was chosen to design these trials vehicles, or whether there were alternative concepts considered for this role. Whatever the wider story behind the early stages of the one-tonne half-track, between 1934 and 1936, Demag designed and produced a series of distinctive three-quarter tracked vehicles known as the D II, all of which employed several novel and unique technical features.
Micro Machines: The Development of the D II 1 and D II 2 ‘Liliput’
The first incarnations of the D II are immediately recognizable due to to their diminutive size and unconventional appearance. It is thanks to these characteristics that this series of machines received the peculiar moniker ‘Liliput’, an adjective (spelled ‘Lilliput’ in English) that denotes an object or person of extremely small size. Originating from Jonathan Swift’s famous eighteenth-century novel Gulliver’s Travels, in which Lilliput is an imaginary island inhabited by miniature 15 cm tall people, the term entered the European lexicon after this popular novel was translated into different languages. Whilst it may seem strange for a German military vehicle to be referred to by this esoteric label, the term ‘Liliput’ was sufficiently well-known in contemporary Europe that it became the name of one of the smallest semi-automatic handguns ever produced, the 4.25 mm Liliput Pistol, which was designed and manufactured by Waffenfabrik August Menz in Germany between 1920 and 1927. It is unknown how this term came to be attached to the Demag D II, but it appears to have been a contemporary name that aptly captures the strange appearance of these tiny machines.
Asides from its noteworthy name, the first variant of the Demag D II series developed between 1934 and 1935, the D II 1, also incorporated a number of unusual technological innovations. Whereas the other German semi-tracked vehicles mounted the automotive components onto a traditional chassis frame, the D II 1 encased all of these parts inside a unique lightweight hull. This novel approach to the construction helped to ensure that the machine would remain as light as possible, thus increasing its maneuverability and cross-country performance.
These performance characteristics were enhanced by Kniepkamp’s revolutionary torsion bar suspension, fitted to both the front axle as well as the tracked section. This worked in conjunction with the interleaved road wheels to provide the D II 1 with excellent mobility across challenging terrain, not to mention relatively fast speeds on paved roads. Although these features do not seem particularly remarkable in light of their widespread employment in later German designs of the Second World War, the Demag D II 1 was one of the first three-quarter tracked vehicles to use such an advanced suspension system successfully.
Kniepkamp’s penchant for cutting-edge technology and his preoccupation with speed, mobility, and weight are also evident in one of the types of track fitted to the D II 1. Alongside orthodox unlubricated pin cast steel track links intended to prioritize off-road traction, the D II 1 was also tested with lubricated needle-bearing track links, each of which carried a rubber pad. These track designs were viewed as a compromise between steel and rubber tracks, the former permitting higher speeds on road, with the latter being more suitable for off-road activity and more durable. By equipping German half-tracks with lubricated rubber padded tracks, Kniepkamp hoped to retain some of the beneficial performance and noise-dampening qualities of the rubber tracks, without sacrificing all of the resilience afforded by steel tracks. Although it appears to be the case that different track designs were still being evaluated at the time when the D II series was being tested, the lubricated needle-bearing rubber padded tracks had become a standard feature on all major German three-quarter tracked vehicles by the beginning of the Second World War.
Whereas the technical and automotive attributes of the Demag D II 1 fulfilled the brief for a light cross-country vehicle, other aspects of the design left something to be desired. Chief among these limitations of the D II 1, at least among those that are apparent without having access to any detailed testing reports, was the placement of the 1.479 litre 6-cylinder 28 hp BMW 315 engine. In another example of defying normal expectations, the engine of the D II 1 was not located in a separate compartment at the front, but was instead installed at the right rear of the hull, where it took up most of the space inside the rear compartment. As a result, there was room for only a driver and three additional men, with little space for extra stowage. For a vehicle designed to tow guns and carry their ammunition and crew complements, the lack of internal volume was a significant shortcoming that could only be rectified by a radical rearrangement of the internal layout of the hull.
Sometime after the D II 1 was completed, the D II 2 was finished in 1935. In many respects, the D II 2 remained the same as its predecessor. It maintained the exact layout, engine, and suspension used in the D II 1, with the only major difference being the addition of an extra road wheel to the tracked suspension as well as a corresponding increase in track length. Other than the provision of a canvas cover to protect the driver from the elements, there were no more significant differences distinguishing the D II 2 from the earlier D II 1.
Consequently, by the end of 1935, Wa Prüf 6 was in possession of two lightweight compact towing vehicles capable of moving their light artillery. In the case of the D II 2, this translated into a vehicle capable of towing up to 600 kg, despite only weighing 2,560 kg fully laden. Moreover, it was able to attain a range of 250 km and a top speed of 50km/hr on roads, as well as scale a grade of 24 degrees unloaded or 12 degrees loaded. However, there were also significant shortcomings to these early designs which necessitated continued development by Demag.
Towards the Sd.Kfz.10: The Demag D II 3
In 1936, the third and final incarnation of the D II, the D II 3, was assembled by Demag and delivered to Wa Prüf 6 for testing. In this guise, the D II came to more closely resemble the final shape of the mass-produced D 7. The original layout was discarded in favor of a more traditional setup, with the engine placed at the front in a separate compartment, whilst another road wheel was also appended to the suspension. Along with the conspicuous bulbous front fenders, these alterations to the D II 3 resulted in an appearance that bore a much closer resemblance to the later Sd.Kfz.10.
However, the modifications to the D II 3 were not merely superficial aesthetic details. By replacing the BMW 315 engine with a larger 1.971 liter 6-cylinder BMW 319, the D II 3 was slightly more powerful than its predecessors. In addition to this, the relocation of the engine to the front of the vehicle improved cooling, thereby reducing the stress on the engine. Furthermore, the greater internal volume in the rear compartment meant that the D II 3 was able to transport 6 men in total, including the driver. For a vehicle intended to transport gun crews, this was a considerable upgrade to the design that increased its utility on the battlefield.
The suspension also underwent several notable alterations. The solid road wheels of the D II were replaced by five road wheels of a new 6-holed variety. Coupled to a larger idler wheel that was mounted close to the ground, the extra track contact area provided by this refined suspension improved flotation on soft terrain, thus ameliorating the cross country mobility of this machine.
Another crucial evolution to the D II 3 design was the substitution of rollers in the place of teeth on the front-mounted drive sprocket. By using rollers, the friction between the track links and the sprocket was decreased. This reduction in resistance allowed the D II 3 to attain higher speeds and was to become a staple feature of later German three-quarter tracked designs.
In the same way as its forebears, the D II 3 was trialed with at least two different track designs, as well as two kinds of front wheels. In terms of tracks, this consisted of a familiar all-steel design alongside Kniepkamp’s lubricated rubber-padded tracks. These tracks could be combined with either pneumatic tires of a type similar to the D II 1 and D II 2, or a solid rubber variety. Unsurprisingly for an experimental vehicle like the D II 3, the photographic evidence is sparse and, due to the quality of surviving photos, difficult to interpret. However, photographs show that both types of tracks and front wheels were equipped on the D II 3, and seem to suggest that the different tire designs were tested in combination with both track variants.
If the technical features of the D II are relatively well-documented by the BAOR report, production figures for these earlier vehicles are more opaque. According to the British, 38 D II 3 were completed by Demag. However, this claim is not confirmed by any surviving German records from the time and does not accord with the usual practice of producing trial vehicles in small series of one to five examples. This suggests that this statement in the BAOR report may be one of its many errors, but without the original German records, no definitive answer can be obtained. In either case, it is clear that in spite of the considerable improvements, the Demag D II 3 was an experimental vehicle that required further development in the eyes of Wa Prüf 6.
Waste Not, Want Not: The D II 3 as a Testbed
Despite their shadowy existence in both the documentary and the photographic record, German prototype vehicles rarely enjoyed a quiet life. Rather than allow their experimental machines to languish in storage, many of the German trial vehicles ordered by the Heeres Waffenamt saw later use as testbeds for new concepts or technology. The Demag D II 3 was no such exception to this rule.
Even before the end of 1935, the Heeres Waffenamt had already presented a report outlining the tactical advantages of creating self-propelled 2 cm Flak guns on the basis of existing half-tracks. The report noted that due to the greater muzzle velocity and the superior penetration of the 2 cm Flak 30 anti-aircraft gun compared to other weapons of this caliber, it was not only an effective defense against air attacks but could also be employed to protect marching columns against surprise tank attacks. Taken by the merits of this idea, the D II 3 and D 6 experimental half-tracks were used to test a superstructure able to mount a 2 cm Flak 30 with 360 degrees of traverse, which would go on to be used on the mass-produced Sd.Kfz.10/4 anti-aircraft half-track.
Generally, such experiments mentioned in the documentation are devoid of photographic evidence, but every so often, stray photographs are published which illuminate these forgotten chapters of a particular vehicle’s career in service. In the case of the D II 3, there are at least two photographs confirming that at least one of the D II 3 experimental chassis fitted with solid rubber front tires and all-steel tracks was used to test this idea.
Close examination of these photographs reveals many similarities between the design of this trial superstructure and the standard style used on the Sd.Kfz.10/4, such as the four ready bins for one twenty-round Flak 30 magazine attached to the folding sides. Puzzlingly, the D II 3 testbed also has several features that were not fitted to Sd.Kfz.10/4 produced in 1939, but which did become standard in 1940. These include the loading ramps protruding from the front of the vehicle and the cable rollers just behind the driver, which were intended to allow the 2 cm Flak 30 to be dismounted from the half-track so that it could be emplaced in a concealed position on the ground.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to say any more about this experimental vehicle due to the lack of additional evidence. It is not even clear when this trial machine was modified in this manner, although it is probable, given its role as a testbed, that the conversion was completed between the production of the D II 3 in 1936 and the date at which the first orders for the Sd.Kfz.10/4 were issued in May 1939. Nonetheless, this example of reusing a prototype machine exemplifies the importance of the D II series in establishing the design parameters for many of the 1-tonne half-tracks that would see successful wartime service.
Stepping Stones: The D II in Retrospect
By the end of their development in 1936, the D II series of prototypes had established the foundations for a half-track design capable of meeting the specifications for a lightweight cross-country towing vehicle outlined by the Heeres Waffenamt in 1934. Although the D II 1 and D II 2 had many peculiar characteristics that were later dispensed with, they also pioneered several ingenious features that would be carried through to the mass-produced D 7, most notably the torsion bar suspension and the substitution of a hull construction in place of the conventional chassis frame. When the positive aspects of the early D II machines were amalgamated with numerous improvements introduced in the D II 3, the basic outline of the future Sd.Kfz.10 became fixed in shape.
Even so, the external similarities between the Sd.Kfz.10 and the final incarnation of the D II can be misleading. There would be multiple adjustments to almost every single facet of the existing design before its finalization as the D 7 in 1938, including changes to the engine, front axle, and road wheels. Nevertheless, In spite of these many modifications distancing the D 7 from the D II 3, these earlier vehicles still performed an important role in establishing the basic parameters and characteristics for their successors.
Consequently, the D II series must not be perceived as an evolutionary dead-end, but as a key step in the history of the development of the ubiquitous Sd.Kfz.10. Whilst none of the D II prototypes have survived to this day, their influence can still be appreciated through the mass-produced D 7, which is as prolific in present-day collections of German military vehicles as it was on the battlefields of the Second World War.
The lack of surviving documentation concerning the history of the Demag D II series of vehicles means that the BAOR Report is still the primary source of information regarding these half-tracks. For those unable to access this report, Panzer Tracts 22-1 is an essential resource for further reading into this topic. As well as quoting directly from the BAOR report, this Panzer Tracts volume also highlights possible errors and provides several photographs of the D II that have not been published elsewhere. In addition to this, the coverage of the later D 6 and D 7 developments has revolutionized our understanding of the history of these vehicles. Older works of literature, such as those authored by Spielberger and Milsom, also summarise the history of the D II as presented in the BAOR report, but they should be used with caution when researching the rest of the Sd.Kfz.10 family, as they each contain errors and outdated information. Finally, a considerable number of photos of the D II that have not been published in printed books have surfaced on the internet, the majority of which have been published in this article.
Illustration of the Demag D II 1 half-track prototype with the rear-mounted engine and with the windshield up. Illustration of the Demag D II 3 half-track prototype with the engine in the front.
Both illustrations by Alexe ‘Carpaticus’ Pavel, funded by our Patreon campaign.
D II 1
D II 2
D II 3
1 + 3
1 + 3
1 + 5
3.4m (L) x 1.6m (W) x 1.7m (H)
4.4m (L) x 1.8m (W) x 1.7m (H)
28 HP BMW 315 1.479 litre 6-cylinder petrol engine
ZF 4-speed transmission
28 HP BMW 315 1.479 litre 6-cylinder Petrol Engine
ZF 4-speed transmission
42 HP BMW 319 1.971 litre 6-cylinder petrol engine
ZF 4-speed transmission
Nazi Germany (1940-42)
Tank Hunter – Two Test Vehicles Built
Ever since the late 1920s, the German Army (Heer) had recognised the need for self-propelled anti-tank guns. It was thought that by exploiting their mobility and low silhouette, these dedicated tank destroyers would be able to flank attacking enemy armor and take the momentum out of the offensive. However, this theory had failed to translate into practice by the time of the Second World War, as the need to prioritise funding for other technological developments meant that the dedicated tracked and half-tracked tank destroyer projects of the interwar years were unable to progress further than the prototype stage.
This shortcoming in mobile anti-tank firepower was exposed during the invasion of France in 1940 and the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Confronted with more heavily armored tanks, such as the T-34, the standard 3.7 cm PaK 36 anti-tank gun was becoming increasingly obsolescent and there was a growing demand for heavier, more mobile anti-tank guns. In order to meet this need as quickly as possible, the Heer jettisoned the idea of a specialised self-propelled anti-tank gun built from the ground-up and instead authorised the conversion of obsolete or captured tank hulls to Panzerjäger (literally ‘tank hunter’), resulting in such ungainly machines as the Panzerjäger I and the 4.7 cm Pak (t) auf Pz.Kpfw.35R. At the same time, the development and fielding of the more powerful 5 cm Pak 38 and 7.5 cm PaK 40 towed anti-tank guns was accelerated.
The Panzer Selbstfahrlafette Ic (Pz.Sfl.Ic) was one of a multitude of developments to arise from this drive for improvised self-propelled anti-tank guns. However, unlike many of its contemporaries, it mounted the German-made 5 cm Pak 38 and used the hull of one of the latest and most advanced tank designs in the German inventory, the VK 9.01. Although this would appear to be a promising start to the project, the technological problems with the VK 9.01 chassis would ultimately compromise the viability of this development. The German word ‘Selbstfahrlafette’ translates to ‘self-propelled gun’ and is often abbreviated to Sfl. or (Sf).
Bad Genes: The VK 9.01 and its Defects
The VK 9.01 (Vollketten 9.01, meaning first design for a fully tracked vehicle in the 9 tonne class) had begun development in 1938 in response to a perceived need for a new, more mobile model of the Panzer II light tank. Heavily influenced by the ideas of Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp, a talented engineer and head of the Waffen Prüfen 6 (Wa Prüf 6) agency of the German motorised vehicle procurement system, the VK 9.01 was designed to offer a revolutionary step forward in tank mobility.
To that end, it took advantage of several innovative automotive components then under development in Germany. These included a 150 hp Maybach HL 45 engine, an 8-speed preselective Maybach VG15319 transmission and various types of triple-stage steering units that would allow the tank to take turns at high speeds. A distinctive torsion bar suspension with five overlapping road wheels was attached to the hull, which allowed the tank to traverse rough ground at high speeds and provided a greater degree of manoeuvrability than contemporary designs. Taken together, these innovations meant that the VK 9.01 was not only relatively easy to drive, but that it could also reach speeds of up to 67 km/h (41.63 mph) on roads, an exceptionally high speed for fully-tracked vehicles of the time.
The vast improvements in mobility were complemented by the installation of a vertical stabiliser for the standard Panzer II 2 cm KwK. 38 main armament and the coaxial 7.92 mm M.G.34 machine gun that permitted it to fire more accurately on the move. Other than a new turret design and marginal increases in the armor protection, it remained similar to the existing model of the Panzer II in most other respects, maintaining the three-man crew of the original.
Initially, it was hoped that the first pre-production examples of the VK 9.01 would be able to enter production as soon as 1939, with mass production scheduled to commence in 1941. It would then subsequently replace the rest of the light tanks in the Heer’s inventory. These ambitious and grandiose plans would prove to be short-lived however, as the development process was constantly delayed by decisions to trial new steering units and transmissions. As a result, by the summer of 1940, none of the 75 0-Serie (pre-production) VK 9.01 then under contract had been produced and work had even started on a new variant with a more powerful engine and marginally thicker armor known as the VK 9.03.
In the end, the protracted development process and the need to rationalise German tank production meant that the VK 9.01 never fulfilled its destiny. Although 55 of the 0-Serie hulls with a bewildering variety of transmissions and steering systems were completed between 1941 and 1942, mass production never occurred as, by that time, there was a more pressing demand for heavier armored vehicles such as the Panther. Worse still, the VK 9.01 proved to be an unreliable machine during testing precisely because of the new automotive components that ironically more often that not broke down and crippled the machine. Consequently, the VK 9.01 never saw any notable uses during the war and is now a largely forgotten episode in the saga of German Second World War tank development.
Although the officials of Inspektorat 6 (the body nominally responsible for drawing up requirements for armored vehicles) could not have foreseen the ultimate demise of this project when they initiated the development of a tank destroyer based on the VK 9.01 on 5 July 1940, these faulty genes were to determine the fate of this project too.
Small but Deadly: The Pz.Sfl.Ic Design
Following the July 1940 directive from Inspektorat 6 to develop a light Panzerjäger (tank hunter) able to keep pace with Panzer Divisions and Motorised Infantry Divisions, Wa Prüf 6 awarded contracts to the Berlin-based company Rheinmetall-Borsig to draw up designs for a 5 cm Pak mounted on a VK 9.01 hull. According to Yuri Pasholok, Rheinmetall-Borsig then allocated this work to Alkett, another firm based in Berlin. While this could make sense given Alkett’s involvement in other armored vehicle projects, it is not mentioned in any other publications. Indeed, Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle, having looked at original German wartime documents, state in their book Panzer Tracts No.7-1 that the superstructure conversion work was completed by Rheinmetall-Borsig on the M.A.N. built hull. They do not make any reference to this work being subcontracted out.
Regardless of the exact division of the labour, this presents a problem for those studying this armored vehicle today, as surviving primary source material concerning the development of armored fighting vehicles during this period at Rheinmetall-Borsig has mostly been lost. Unfortunately, this means that there are many unanswered questions relating to the history of this project and the technical details of this conversion.
One such problem is the designation of the machine itself. It was known as the Panzer Selbstfahrlafette Ic (English: Armored Self-propelled Carriage Ic). While Panzer Selbstfahrlafette is a common enough element in the designations of armored vehicles converted by the Germans into self-propelled guns, the Ic aspect is unusual. Some other German tank destroyers received similar combinations of Roman numerals followed by alphabetical suffixes, such as the 10 cm Kanone Panzer Selbstfahrlafette IVa (better known as ‘Dicker Max’). Given that there was a Panzer Selbstfahrlafette Ia based on a converted VK 3.02 munitions carrier, it is likely that the ‘c’ means that this was the third design in a series of 5 cm self-propelled anti-tank guns, but it is not possible to be sure.
A factory-fresh Pz.Sfl.Ic. This provides a clear view of the VK 9.01 chassis, the two-tiered superstructure and the 5 cm Kanone L/60 gun. Note the appliqué armor fitted to the side of the hull, which is visible next to the two shock absorbers. Ancillary equipment for the gun such as the cleaning rods is stowed on the side of the lower tier of the superstructure and a canvas cover strapped onto the roof shields the crew from the elements. Photo: warspot.ru
Nevertheless, what can be gleaned from the few fragments of surviving information and photographs is that the Pz.Sfl.Ic involved the mounting of a fixed open-topped superstructure onto a standard VK 9.01 hull. It is unclear whether the VK 9.01 hulls used to create the Pz.Sfl.Ic were part of the 55 0-Serie VK 9.01 chassis completed in 1941 and 1942 or if they were extra hulls produced especially for this purpose. Nevertheless, they appear to have maintained the same suspension and general layout of the base tank. They carried the same level of armor protection, consisting of 30 mm at the front, 14.5 mm at the sides which was bolstered by an additional 5 mm of appliqué armor, and 14.5 mm at the rear.
Mounted in place of the turret was a two-tiered armored superstructure. On the bottom tier, this contained a driver’s visor of the same type fitted to the VK 9.01 at the front, as well as two elongated visors at the front right and left hand sides. Gun cleaning rods were also stowed on the left-hand side of this lower tier of the superstructure. A slightly shorter and narrower tier of the superstructure containing the 5 cm gun and its mounting surmounted this lower segment. It is unclear whether this top section of the superstructure could rotate like a turret, but there is no indication in documents or photographs that this was the case. Hence, it is likely that elevation and a limited degree of traverse to either side was provided by the gun mount, as with other comparable designs such as the Marder II and Marder III.
The main gun selected for the Pz.Sfl.Ic was the 5 cm Kanone L/60, a derivative of the 5 cm Pak 38 towed anti-tank gun that had been under development at Rheinmetall Borsig since 1938. This version of the gun had modifications to the breech, carriage and recoil mechanisms to make it more suitable for use within the confines of an armored vehicle.
According to one German technical document issued during the war, the 5 cm Pak 38 could penetrate 69 mm of armor at 100 m when firing the 5 cm Panzergranate (Pzgr.) 39 armor piercing capped (APC) round, which was increased to 130 mm with the 5 cm Pzgr. 40 armor piercing composite rigid (APCR) rounds. At distances of 1,000 m, the penetration decreased to 48 mm and 38 mm respectively. However, it is important to note that stocks of the 5 cm Pzgr. 40 APCR round were limited due to its tungsten core. Tungsten was a valuable material that was in short supply in wartime Germany and required for many other industrial purposes. It could therefore not be squandered on producing vast numbers of anti-tank rounds meaning that tank and anti-tank gun crews were generally issued only a few of these rounds at a time for use in the most threatening situations.
An excerpt from an original German document outlining the penetration of the 5 cm Pak 38. Whilst the 5 cm Pak 38 was adequate for dealing with most enemy tanks that might have been encountered in 1942, the Heer was already seeking more powerful anti-tank guns to deal with anticipated future threats. It is important to note that each military had its own procedures for measuring and testing penetration which could lead to different results for the same gun and projectile. Source: valka.cz
Compared to the VK 9.01 tank, the Pz.Sfl.Ic accommodated an extra crew member for a total complement of four men. Presumably, this included a driver and radio operator seated in the front left and front right of the hull respectively, plus two men in the top part of the superstructure to load and fire the gun, one of whom would have been the vehicle commander.
Despite these significant changes to the VK 9.01, its performance (at least on paper) does not appear to have been adversely affected. The 150 hp Maybach HL 45 engine was still capable of propelling the vehicle to a maximum speed of nearly 70 km/h and the weight remained at 10.5 tonnes, the same as the standard VK 9.01.
Even so, due to the scarcity of documentation concerning this vehicle, there is no way to evaluate how well these design specifications translated into practice. When the 0-Serie VK 9.01 tanks were evaluated at the Berka proving ground sometime in 1941 or 1942, they fared miserably. Most of the tanks succumbed to breakdowns after covering relatively short distances, and problems with getting the automotive components to work reliably proved to be an insurmountable challenge for the engineers.
Presumably, such problems would also have afflicted the Pz.Sfl.Ic had it ever entered mass production, but in the absence of test reports, one can only speculate.
Illustration of the 5 cm PaK 38 auf Pz.Kpfw. II Sonderfahrgestell 901 (Panzer Selbstfahrlafette Ic), produced by Alexe Pavel, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
Big Plans for a Small Tank Destroyer: Pz.Sfl.Ic Production
On 30 May 1941, almost one year after Rheinmetall Borsig had been contracted to begin designing the Pz.Sfl.Ic, the Heer issued a document called the Heeres Panzerprogramm 41 (Army Tank Program 41). An exercise in long-range planning, this document outlined the production quantities of all vehicles necessary to outfit a total of 20 new Panzer Divisions and 10 new Motorised Infantry Divisions by 1945. By this time, the successor to the VK 9.01, the VK 9.03, was the preferred choice of new model light tank for the Heer. As such, the Panzerprogramm 41 envisaged the production of almost 10,000 of these new light tanks.
In addition to the standard tanks, the planners behind the Panzerprogramm 41 also envisaged an entire family of armored vehicles based upon the VK 9.03. Sources differ on the exact number, but this would have included between 1,028 and 2,028 tank destroyers armed with a 5 cm anti-tank gun referred to as l.Pz.Jäger (Pz.Sfl.5 cm) auf VK903 Fgst. (Light Tank Destroyer on VK 9.03 chassis). As there were only minor differences between the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03, it is likely that such a tank destroyer would have closely resembled the Pz.Sfl.Ic.
However, this document was more aspirational than it was realistic. It was not based on any sober assessment of German economic capabilities, nor did it offer precise guidelines on how such astronomical (for the standards of mid-1941 German industry) production figures were to be achieved. At the time the document was issued, the VK 9.03 was still on paper and fewer than 15 of the 0-Serie VK 9.01 had left the production line, which raises several questions as to whether such plans as laid out in the Panzerprogramm 41 would have been feasible.
In the end, the VK 9.03 never entered production and only two trial examples of the Pz.Sfl.Ic based on VK 9.01 hulls were ever made. According to a report issued in July 1941, these were scheduled for completion in September 1941. There is no way of knowing whether production kept to this schedule, but in any case, the two machines were completed by March 1942 at the latest.
Trials on the Eastern Front: The Pz.Sfl.Ic in Combat
Unlike many experimental vehicles that were typically constructed out of unarmored mild steel, the two Pz.Sfl.Ics were made from armor plate. This meant that they were suitable for deployment in combat and the Heer did not waste this opportunity.
All two of the Pz.Sfl.Ic in service with the third platoon of Panzer-Jäger Company 601 (later renamed as the 3rd Company of Panzer-Jäger battalion (Sfl.) 559) as it travels through the small town of Kloster Zinna in Brandenburg. A Kleinepanzerbefehlswagen I (a small command tank based on the Panzer I hull) leads the convoy, while at least four of the 8.8 cm Sfl. half-tracks bring up the rear. The relatively small size and low silhouette of these tank destroyers can be appreciated by comparing them to the humongous half-tracks and the young boys walking in the middle of the road. Note that the frontal plate of the Pz.Sfl.Ic superstructure only has a single visor for the driver, perhaps suggesting that there was not a separate radio operator (who would normally have his own visor) and a three-man crew instead of four. Source: valka.cz
On 10 March 1942, the two Pz.Sfl.Ic vehicles were assigned to the 3rd platoon of Panzer-Jäger Company 601 to replace some of the 8.8 cm Sfl. (8.8 cm Flak 36 mounted on Sd.Kfz.8 half-tracks) that had been lost in combat on the Eastern Front. Later renamed as the 3rd Company of Panzer-Jäger battalion (Sfl.) 559 on 21 April 1942, this unit operated under the 2nd Army, itself part of Army Group South.
Unfortunately, little else is known about the service of the Pz.Sfl.Ic on the Eastern Front. There are no known surviving trials reports detailing its performance in combat or discussing any issues with the design. A few surviving photographs prove that they did indeed make it to the front, and a strength report dated 20 August 1941 states that the 3rd Company of Panzer-Jäger battalion (Sfl.) 559 still had two Pz.Sfl.Ic at that time, one of which was operational. However, the Pz.Sfl.Ic simply vanishes from the paperwork after this point, with no mention of the ultimate fate of these two vehicles.
This suggests that unless they were sent back to Germany for some reason, the guns likely perished by the end of 1942. At the time the Pz.Sfl.Ic joined the 3rd Company of Panzer-Jäger battalion (Sfl.) 559, Army Group South had been split into two groups for the assault on Stalingrad and the Caucasus oil fields. As part of Army Group B, the 2nd Army protected the northern flank of the 6th Army as it fought its way into Stalingrad, until it was decimated by the Soviet winter offensive in late 1942 and early 1943.
It is unlikely that the Pz.Sfl.Ic would have survived this maelstrom, especially if the technological foibles that plagued the VK 9.01 had also afflicted this machine. The maintenance nightmare involved in keeping these fickle vehicles running would have been compounded yet further by the bewildering menagerie of different vehicles operated by Panzer-Jäger battalion (Sfl.) 559, which also included Panzer Selbstfahrlafette 1 für 7.62 cm Pak 36 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. D and 8.8 cm Sfl. halftracks.
A Pz.Sfl.Ic entrained with a group of Panzer IIIs. Few details of this vehicle are visible on this photograph, other than the prominent Balkenkreuz and the fact that it is missing one of its outer road wheels. The exact location of this train and its intended destination are unknown, though this photo once again shows that the Pz.Sfl.Ic did make it to the front. Source: valka.cz
Too Little, Too Late
The fate of the Pz.Sfl.Ic was tied to that of its host, the VK 9.01. Once work on the deeply flawed and troublesome VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 tanks was abruptly terminated in March 1942, any hopes that the Pz.Sfl.Ic would be mass produced were dashed, as the entire rationale behind such projects was to save time and funds by converting readily available hulls.
Yet even if by some miracle the VK 9 series had entered mass production as the new model of Panzer II, the Pz.Sfl.Ic would still have had a precarious future. By the time the first two trials machines had been issued in March 1942, the Heer was already looking to guns of a calibre greater than 5 cm to counter the ever increasing armor of enemy tanks. Consequently, conversions involving captured Czechoslovakian 4.7 cm and 5 cm Pak 38 guns were superseded by those equipped with captured Soviet 7.62 cm guns or the new 7.5 cm Pak 40, resulting in the well-known Marder (Marten) series among others. This prevailing trend suggests that the Pz.Sfl.Ic would not have remained in production for long.
Although there were paper projects to mount the 7.5 cm gun on the VK 9 series (and a photo of one such conversion suggests it even seems to have been carried out), the fact that the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 never entered mass production meant that such ideas would never have been able to enter widespread service.
Ultimately then, the Pz.Sfl.Ic was a non-starter. The failure of the VK 9 initiative undercut the reason for its existence and the gun it was equipped with was already starting to be outclassed due to the frenetic pace of Second World War tank development. Apart from a few photographs and a smattering of documents, nothing of the Pz.Sfl.Ic project survives to this day, but it remains a curious example of the German propensity to experiment with self-propelled gun conversions throughout the war.
A rare glimpse at the rear of the Pz.Sfl.Ic. Taken in the summer or autumn of 1942, this photograph is proof that the Pz.Sfl.Ic did indeed make it to the front. Like all other German armored vehicles in use on the front line, it has a Balkenkreuz painted on the hull side for identification purposes. The wrecked Soviet fighter in the foreground suggests that this may be in the vicinity of an airfield. Source: warspot.ru
Dimensions (L-W-H, based on VK 9.03)
4.24 m x 2.39 m x 2.05 m
Water-cooled gasoline Maybach HL 45 motor producing 150 HP at 3800 rpm
VG 15319, or OG 20417, or SMG 50
LGR 15319 or LGL 15319 Triple radius differential steering unit
67 km/h (regulated to 65 km/h)
5 cm Kanone L/60
30 mm hull front
14.5 mm + 5 mm appliqué hull side
14.5 mm hull rear
Superstructure armor unknown
The most accurate source on the Pz.Sfl.Ic is Panzer Tracts 7-1 written by renowned German Second World War AFV historians Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle. However, only a single page of this book is devoted to the Pz.Sfl.Ic, reflecting the dearth of primary source material for this vehicle.
An online article originally written in Russian by Yuri Pasholok and available in English translation provides a decent summary of the Pz.Sfl.Ic and helps to place it in the wider context of the development of the VK 9 series of projects.
Asides from a few photographs showing the Pz.Sfl.Ic on deployment (one of which was published in Autumn Gale), little else has emerged on this elusive machine.
Note that in the popular online game War Thunder, the VK 9.03 is mislabelled as the Pz.Sfl.Ic. The actual history of the VK 9.03 can be found in another Tanks Encyclopedia article.
Didden, J., and Swarts, M., Autumn Gale/Herbst Sturm: Kampfgruppe Chill, schwere Heeres Panzerjäger Abteilung 559 and the German Recovery in the Autumn of 1944 (Drunen: De Zwaardvisch, 2013).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.2-2 Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. G, H, J, L, and M: Development and Production from 1938 to 1943 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2007).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.20-2 Paper Panzers: Aufklaerungs-, Beobachtungs-, and Flak Panzer (Reconnaissance, Observation, and Anti-Aircraft) (Maryland, Panzer Tracts, 2002).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.7-1 Panzerjaeger (3.7 cm Tak to Pz.Sfl.Ic): Development and Employment from 1927 to 1941 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2004).
Spielberger, W.J., Der Panzer-Kampfwagen I und II und ihre Abarten: Einschließlich der Panzerentwicklungen der Reichswehr (Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag, 1974). Translated into English as Panzer I and II and their Variants: From Reichswehr to Wehrmacht (Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing US, 2007).
Pasholok, Y., ‘Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf. G: The Fruit of Unending Labour’. Read HERE (Russian), English version HERE.
Nazi Germany (1940-42)
Light/Reconnaissance Tank – At Least One Prototype Hull Completed
At the start of the Second World War, the Panzer I and Panzer II light tanks far outnumbered any of the other tanks in the German inventory. Lightly armed and armored, these fragile machines were already nearing obsolescence by the time Poland was invaded in September 1939. Conscious of the fact that these tanks required modernisation if they were to remain viable into the future, in the late 1930s, German engineers embarked upon a plethora of projects to improve the Panzer I and Panzer II. One of the first attempts was the VK 9.01, a project begun in 1938 to enhance the mobility of the Panzer II by introducing technologically advanced automotive components and a new suspension into the design. Conceived in July 1940, the VK 9.03 was the next major iteration of this series, featuring marginally thicker armor and a more powerful engine than its predecessor. Despite these limited improvements, the VK 9.03 came close to gaining approval for mass production as both the Panzer II neuer Art (new model) Ausf. H and the Panzer II Ausf. M.
Like the rest of the VK 9 family of tanks, the design of the VK 9.03 was closely intertwined with the tank design philosophy of Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp, an influential engineer and a leading figure in the Heeres Waffenamt (Army Ordnance Department). Following Kniepkamp’s belief that speed and firepower were of paramount importance in tank design, the VK 9 series was designed to incorporate the latest automotive technology developed by German engineers, such as new transmissions and steering systems. In theory, this sophisticated technology would create a more mobile platform that was easier for its crews to operate. In reality, the immature, temperamental automotive components proved to be an unending nightmare for the tanks’ crews.
Yet even before the technological problems became apparent, the VK 9.03 lived a precarious existence. Right from the moment of its inception in July 1940, it was merely one project among a litany of contradictory and seemingly mutually exclusive designs aimed at creating a new model Panzer II. At the same time as the VK 9.03 was struggling to get off the drawing board, work was ongoing on several more promising new model Panzer II projects, such as the VK 13 series with its more spacious interior and four-man crew. Moreover, operational experience in the Polish and French campaigns had raised questions over the utility of such lightly armed and armored tanks outside the sphere of reconnaissance. In light of these realities, it would appear miraculous that the VK 9.03 project was even approved, let alone considered for mass production, were it not for the muddled and irrational state of German tank procurement; a circumstance that allowed projects such as the VK 9.03 to gain their own momentum irrespective of wider economic considerations and the needs of the troops in the field.
Castles in the Sky: The Transformation of German Tank Procurement
The early war Nazi economy was beset by problems and inefficiencies caused by a contradictory ‘guns and butter’ policy, overlapping administrative jurisdictions, and the mismanagement of resources. These underlying structural issues that afflicted the Nazi state were reflected in the disorganized nature of the German tank procurement system of 1940. It was in this context that the visionary and talented engineer Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp came to prominence.
As the chief of Waffen Prüfen 6 (Wa Prüf 6), a subdivision of the Heeres Waffenamt (Army Ordnance Department) responsible for overseeing the design of new tanks and other motorized vehicles, Kniepkamp was involved in nearly all of the major German AFV projects of the Second World War. Under his stewardship, this department of engineers came to usurp the authority of Inspektorat 6 (In 6), the Army’s procurement office for armored vehicles and other such similar equipment. Whereas In 6 had previously determined which kinds of tanks the Heer needed and Wa Prüf 6 had merely translated these stipulations into engineering specifications, by the late 1930s, Wa Prüf 6 began to assume greater control over what types of tanks should be produced. This outsized influence resulted in a situation where tanks were designed less in accordance with Army requirements than with the whims and wishes of the engineers in Wa Prüf 6 and the design firms. Consequently, the doors were opened to a smorgasbord of projects, many of which were technologically sophisticated, yet also in many cases impractical, unnecessary, and unwanted.
In a typical example of this design frenzy, by the end of 1939, the design firm Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (M.A.N.) was working on three separate projects to improve the Panzer II: the VK 9.01 (the future Panzer II Ausf. G), the VK 13.01 (which later evolved into the VK 13.03, more commonly known as the Panzer II Ausf. L ‘Luchs’), and the more heavily armored VK 16.01 (later adopted as the Ausf. J). This is reflective of the lack of oversight and direction in German tank procurement at the time; German engineers could not decide whether an improved Panzer II should be more mobile or if it should have greater armored protection, nor could they figure out whether it should have a three-man or four-man crew. Rather than decide on a specific approach, they simply squandered resources on pursuing all three, despite the inherent overlaps and contradictions among these designs.
Although one might expect that the onset of war would have put paid to this free-for-all in favor of a more rationalized production schedule, the chaos was, if anything, exacerbated. The VK 9.03 emerged from this increasingly complex web of intersecting designs and the competing procurement initiatives engendered by this situation. Note to the reader: Most of the projects to improve the Panzer II received a designation in the VK index. Created by Kniepkamp, this index categorised the configuration of the vehicle (VK/HK – Vollketten/Halbketten – Full-tracked/Half-tracked), its projected weight, and its position in the development cycle. So VK 9.03 referred to the third design for a (projected) nine tonne fully-tracked armored vehicle. For the purposes of consistency and clarity, I have elected to use the format VK X.0X or VK XX.0X when referring to VK index numbers in this article. Publications and period documents refer to VK designations in a multitude of different ways, thus VK 901 or V.K.901 can both be considered ‘correct’ alternatives to VK 9.01.
Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp in uniform. After receiving responsibility for overseeing the creation of new tank designs in 1936, Kniepkamp became one of the most influential figures in German Second World War armored fighting vehicle development. Under Kniepkamp’s guidance, German engineers initiated the designs for several famous tanks, including the Panther, the Tigers, and the various E-series projects. Although nowhere near as well-known as their contemporaries, the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 epitomized Kniepkamp’s conception of the ideal light tank. Source: Wikimedia Commons
More of the Same: The VK 9.03 Design
In June 1940, not long after the Heeres Waffenamt had delivered the disappointing news to In 6 that mass production of the VK 9.01 would not be possible until November 1941, In 6 instructed Wa Prüf 6 to commence work on the VK 9.03. With a projected weight of 10.5 tonnes, this new design was to sport thicker armor and a more powerful engine than the VK 9.01. However, in nearly all other respects, the characteristics and components remained exactly the same as its predecessor to such an extent that it is quicker to list the differences than it is the similarities.
Even though improved armor protection was stipulated as one of the primary goals of this project, the slight weight expansion did not permit a vast increase in armor thicknesses over the VK 9.01. In fact, only the sides of the hull and the rear were to be increased from 14.5 mm to 20 mm, whilst the rest of the armor remained the same with a maximum of 30 mm on the front of the hull. Although the increase in the thickness of the hull sides and rear may have rendered the VK 9.03 slightly more resistant to anti-tank rifles, which had knocked-out many Panzer IIs in Poland, this was hardly a massive increase that would drastically increase the survivability of this tank of the battlefield.
The other most significant change implemented in the VK 9.03 was the installation of a more powerful Maybach HL 66 P engine. Originally developed in 1938 for the HK (meaning Halbketten – ‘Half-tracked’) 9.01 half-track design, Maybach had manufactured five of these engines by the end of 1940 followed by 14 more in 1941. Rated at 200 hp, this engine was calculated to be capable of providing sufficient power to allow the VK 9.03 to attain a maximum road speed of 65 km/h, an impressive speed for a tracked vehicle of that time period. Given that the lighter VK 9.01 could reach 67 km/h with its less powerful 150 hp HL 45 engine, this did not really represent an improvement; instead, it merely ensured that the VK 9.03 maintained the mobility of its predecessor.
Indeed, on 22 June 1940, engineers attempted to derive the automotive characteristics of the VK 9.03 by calculating the effects of installing a Maybach HL 66 engine and a strengthened VG 15319 transmission able to withstand higher torque into a heavier but otherwise unchanged VK 9.01 hull. Whereas in these initial studies the VK 9.01 suspension was not altered in any way, the Kgs. 61/300/10 tracks of the VK 9.01 were eventually exchanged for wider Kgs. 63/360/90 tracks, thereby increasing the wheelbase of the vehicle from 2.00 to 2.08 m.
Aside from these changed characteristics, the VK 9.03 remained virtually identical to the VK 9.01, retaining the three-man crew (comprising a commander/gunner, radio operator, and driver), and the 2 cm Kw.K. 38 and M.G.34 (Pz.) armament. Due to the disparity in the number of surviving documents between M.A.N. (the designer of the hull) and Daimler-Benz (designer of the turret and superstructure), details concerning the initial design of the turret and superstructure for the VK 9.03 are scant. However, given the extensive similarities between the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03, it is likely that the turret and superstructure would have resembled that fitted to the VK 9.01, but this is merely speculation.
Even though the VK 9.03 does not appear to have offered any substantial enhancements to the already delayed VK 9.01, Wa Prüf 6 had awarded contracts to M.A.N. to design and build five Versuchs-Fahrgestell (trial chassis) and Daimler-Benz to design the Aufbau (turrets and superstructures) by the end of 1940.
Ordered already in June 1940, the first of these VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell was to be equipped with the Maybach VG 20417 transmission and the LG 45 L steering unit, the latter of which had already been proposed for the aborted VK 9.02. Considered to be at the cutting edge of German automotive technology for the time, these components were specifically selected for the VK 9 series in order to deliver the excellent mobility and ease of operation deemed so essential by Kniepkamp. In a cruel twist of irony unbeknownst to the engineers at the time, these ill-fated immature components were to prove a constant source of breakdowns when they were trialed in the VK 9.01.
A factory-fresh 0-Serie VK 9.01 (adopted as the Panzer II Ausf. G) photographed by Wa Prüf 6 in 1941. The VK 9.03 shared many of the features introduced with this design, including the stabilized armament and the torsion bar suspension with overlapping road wheels. Although it is unclear whether or not the VK 9.03 was originally intended to use the same superstructure and turret as the VK 9.01, it is likely that it would have looked similar given the VK 9.03’s overall resemblance to the VK 9.01 design. Source: warspot.ru
The Great Expectations: Plans for Mass Production
The numerous similarities between the design of the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 were paralleled by the equally ambitious plans for mass production. Formed before the technologically advanced automotive components used by the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 had even undergone thorough testing, these lofty schemes envisioned contracts for thousands of tanks that would re-equip the combat reconnaissance units in the Panzer Divisions and the Motorised Infantry Divisions.
As soon as 8 January 1941, by which point the majority of the design drawings for the VK 9.03 hull had been completed, the Waffenamt awarded a contract to M.A.N. for the production of 500 VK 9.03 hulls. Presumably, Daimler-Benz, which had been tasked with designing the Aufbau on 23 September 1940, also received a production contract for 500 turrets and superstructures to be mated to these hulls. This contract suggests that the VK 9.03 had displaced the VK 9.01 as the primary candidate for a mass-produced new model of Panzer II, as whilst mass production of the VK 9.01 was frequently discussed, a series production contract beyond the 75 0-Series trial hulls never materialized.
Regardless of these optimistic plans, it is important to recognize that by the time this contract had been awarded, M.A.N. was only just on the cusp of completing the first VK 9.01 0-Serie hulls that had been ordered over a year ago. This vast chasm between the aspirations for the VK 9 project and its tangible results were exposed in an almost comical segment of a meeting concerning the status of developmental vehicles held on 23 May 1941 between M.A.N staff and General Radlmeier, a representative of the Reichsministerium für Bewaffnung und Munition (Reich Ministry of Armaments and Munitions). Perhaps understandably, Radlmeier had visited M.A.N. with the impression that the VK 9.03 was ready to progress to series production; after all, according to information available at the Ministry, VK 9.03 mass production was to begin in January 1942. It fell to M.A.N. staff to explain to a reportedly ‘very astonished’ Radlmeier that the production of the first five Versuchs-Fahrgestell had only just started, and that M.A.N. had scheduled the production of the first series production VK 9.03 for April 1942. In a statement that did not bode well for the innovative and unproven VK 9.03, this segment of the report concluded with Radlmeier’s ominous pronouncement that future Panzer production would focus on mass production of mature tank designs on automobile-style assembly lines.
Yet despite this telling indication that the pressures of wartime economic management were starting to militate against novel and technologically complex designs such as the VK 9.03, this new model of Panzer II remained firmly entrenched in the Heer’s long-range planning. On 30 May 1941, a document known as the Schwerpunktprogramm ( Priority Program – Schwerpunkt being a German term, often used in relation to ‘Blitzkrieg’, that refers to the focal point of a particular effort) outlined the production quantities of all vehicles necessary to fulfil the requirements of the Heeres Panzerprogramm 41 (Army Tank Program 1941). In order to outfit a total of 20 new Panzer Divisions and 10 new Motorised Infantry Divisions, the Waffenamt calculated that the Heer needed 2,592 VK 9.03 tanks for combat reconnaissance in Panzer units, as well as another 8,111 VK 9.03 armored reconnaissance vehicles for headquarters, infantry, motorized infantry, Panzer, pioneer, reconnaissance, and tank-hunter units. Moreover, 1,483 VK 9.03 tanks were to be used for commanding tank-hunter units and for artillery observation in artillery units, not to mention 1,028 chassis for tank destroyers mounting a 5 cm anti-tank gun and 360 chassis for self-propelled 15 cm s.I.G. 33 guns.
Such colossal demands necessitated a correspondingly prodigious production output. To meet these targets, the document declared that 300 Panzer II would need to be completed by April 1942, 1,380 by 1 April 1943, 4,980, by 1 April 1944, and 13,980 by 1 April 1945. In a concession to the inconveniences of reality, it was accepted that production of the standard Panzer II (the Ausf. F) would have to continue until VK 9.03 production could begin in earnest, whenever that might be. Unfortunately for these assiduous planners, such targets, if they were ever obtainable in the first place, would require a degree of economic rationalization that, at least in the case of Panzer II development, was sorely lacking among both industry and the Waffenamt.
Rather than prioritize effort on perfecting a single design that would have been suitable for the kind of mass production on assembly lines desired by economists, the Waffenamt continued to pursue multiple projects, without deciding on a clear trajectory for future production. Thus, by August 1941, the contract for 500 VK 9.03 had fragmented into a contract for 250 VK 9.03 and 250 VK 13.03, another even heavier Panzer II variant that was intended to use the same automotive technology as the VK 9 series but would mount a more spacious two-man turret. A sixth VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell was also ordered, with the first one that had been ordered back in June 1940 expected to be completed by September of 1941.
In the space of just a few months, the VK 9.03 project was to splinter still further, as more new additions were proposed and several alterations introduced. Consequently, the yawning gap that separated German tank design from the needs of troops on the battlefield and the imperative of economic rationalization became a chasm.
A photo of the Maybach HL 66 P engine from a technical manual published in May 1942. Capable of producing 200 hp at 3,000 rpm, this engine was proposed for installation in the VK 9.03. The same engine was later employed by the VK 13.03, an alternative new model of Panzer II also developed by M.A.N. Source: valka.cz
The Fragmentation of the VK 9.03 Project
Back in May 1940, M.A.N. and Waffenamt officials had reassured one another that mass production of the Panzer II neuer Art, then in the guise of the VK 9.01, would be underway by November 1941. However, as November approached, the prospect of mass production was not even on the horizon, let alone the foreseeable future. Although a total of 15 of the 75 VK 9.01 0-Serie chassis had been delivered to the Heer by the end of August 1941, their performance in trials held at the Berka testing ground was far from encouraging, with numerous breakdowns and teething troubles afflicting the new automotive components. In any case, the VK 9.01 had already been superseded as the candidate for mass production by the VK 9.03, which was itself also facing competition from the new VK 13.03 design.
The precarious future of the VK 9.03 was compounded still further by the sudden introduction of new members of the VK 9 family. Following another visit from General Radlmeier on 15 August 1941, M.A.N. reported that he was ‘especially interested’ in new tank designs, namely the VK 9.04 and VK 9.05. According to the report, these designs were not to be produced in their own separate batches, but instead, as part of the 250 VK 9.03 ordered on 1 August 1941. Just as the VK 9.01 had been displaced by the VK 9.03, the VK 9.03 also faced being made redundant by new designs in its own family of armored vehicles.
Unfortunately, very little is known about the VK 9.04 and VK 9.05, other than the fact that they existed. Asides from the aforementioned report of Radlmeier’s visit, the only other snippet of information concerning the VK 9.05 comes from a report on engine development submitted by Maybach on 31 March 1942. In this report, the VK 9.05 is mentioned as having a 400 hp Maybach HL 100 petrol engine and a Lenkkupplung steering unit. Given the absence of any other details, it is highly likely that the VK 9.04 and VK 9.05 remained nothing more than conceptual designs.
If these issues with technology, production, and competing designs did not place the VK 9.03 in sufficient jeopardy, the nature of the war on the Eastern Front was also starting to call into question the validity of expending such a vast amount of effort and resources on a light tank. The experience of fighting against Soviet tanks catalyzed plans to upgun the existing Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tanks, and as a result, more emphasis came to be placed on creating new designs with more firepower and greater armored protection. As one of Germany’s primary producers of armored vehicles, trucks and heavy industrial equipment, M.A.N. was forced to focus its efforts on sustaining production of the Panzer III and later the famous Panther. This changing wartime context, therefore, left little room for mass production of a vulnerable, immature, unproven and complex light tank such as the VK 9.03.
The implications of this situation were made apparent in a report by the assembly department of M.A.N. dated 18 August 1941. According to this report, the requirement to produce 20 Panzer III and 50 VK 9.03 per month would necessitate the expansion of the assembly hall in order to accommodate 125 new machine tools, as well as a new department for the working of gear wheels. This latter provision was particularly important, as the finishing of gear wheels was one of the major bottlenecks of Panzer production at the M.A.N. assembly hall. Since there had been delays in the arrival of gear finishing facilities at M.A.N., the factory was compelled to sub-contract the work to other factories such as Zahnräderfabriken Augsburg, and would be unable to increase its own output over the next two years. Since the VK 9.03 would have needed three times as many gears as the Panzer III, this setup was likely to seriously impede mass production of the VK 9.03.
The report goes on to note that the equipment used to machine holes in the hull sides for torsion bar suspensions would need to be reworked for the VK 9.03, further delaying the startup of mass-production. This report, which provides an interesting glimpse into the somewhat mundane factors that influenced tank production, did not bode well for the VK 9.03. Faced with these hurdles to overcome and the need to increase production of arguably more relevant designs, it must have begged the question: was the VK 9.03 worth the effort?
These difficult questions were of little concern to those involved with the design process, who continued to run rampant proposing new additions to the VK 9.03. One such example of this was the idea to replace the 2 cm Kw.K. 38 main armament of the VK 9.03 with a more powerful 2.8 cm self-loading cannon derived from the 2.8 cm sPzB 41 heavy anti-tank rifle. Known by several names, including Geschütz 8202, Wg 8202 SLMG, 2.8 cm Kw.K. 41, and then, after delays with its production, 2.8 cm Kw.K. 42, this weapon was fitted with a Mauser-designed gas pressure loader. It was calculated to be capable of firing 15-20 aimed rounds per minute and was intended to be able to penetrate 60 mm of armor at 30 degrees from a range of 100 meters when firing the 2.8 cm Pzgr. 41 round.
Reflecting the breakdown of the German procurement system, it was Hitler’s decision to mount this gun in the VK 9.03 that initiated work in this direction. On 11 September 1941, the Heeres Waffenamt was requested to produce 200 Geschütz 8202 for delivery between April 1942 and April 1943. Needless to say, progress was not so swift. In a July 1942 report providing an overview of the status of equipment development by the Heer, it was revealed that ten 2.8 cm Kw.K. 42 from a Versuchs-Serie (trial series) of 24 were available and that the rest of the contract was on track for completion by 1 October 1942, presumably referring to the order for 200 placed in September 1941. However, after this report, the gun simply vanishes and there is no evidence to suggest that any from the mass production contract were produced or that any were fitted to a VK 9.03 turret.
The 2.8 cm sPzB 41 heavy anti-tank rifle from which the 2.8 cm Kw.K. 42 was derived. Equipped with a progressively tapering barrel to increase muzzle velocity, this weapon operated on the squeeze bore principle. Seen here mounted on a standard field carriage, this weapon was also mounted on half-tracks and the four-wheeled Sd.Kfz.221 armored car. Source: warspot.ru
Around the same time as these efforts to upgun the VK 9.03 were being explored, engineers were also pursuing the idea of mounting a M.A.N.-designed HWA 1038 GL V8 diesel engine in the VK 9.03. Although there is little background on the developmental history of this engine and the thought process behind the decision to mount it in the VK 9.03, there are brief mentions of its relation to the VK 9.03. On 20 August 1941, a delegation from M.A.N. met with Herr Strunze, an engineer from Wa Prüf 6. In order to make the engine easier to start in wintry conditions, Strunze suggested that the engine be fitted glow flanges on the engine intake line and a fuel injection system to allow fuel already in the intake line to be easily ignited. Unlike the 2.8 cm Kw.K.42, this engine was at least trialed in both a VK 9.01 and a VK 9.03 (most probably one of the six trial chassis). As stated by a M.A.N. report from February 1942 on the development of diesel engines, the V8 had an output of 185 hp at 2,600 rpm, and work was underway to up this to 200 hp by increasing engine speed. Testing with a supercharger was also mentioned.
As with many other German tanks in production during late 1941, consideration was also given to adapting the VK 9.03 for operation in the hot, humid, and dusty environments such as might be found in the North African deserts of Libya and Egypt, or the southern reaches of the Soviet Union. Known as Tropen (literally ‘tropics’) modifications, these were intended to improve cooling and restrict the ingress of dust and sand. Typically, such modifications included enlarging the cooling air intake, installing a more powerful fan and extra filters, sealing exposed openings against dust, protecting the electrical equipment, and issuing a tarp and wider shovel to the crew. All of these measures were mentioned in a report on Tropen modifications from the Waffenamt dated 13 December 1941, which noted that testing was being conducted on the VK 9.03. This is not so surprising given that the first VK 9.01 were intended to be issued to the 15th Panzer Division (part of Rommel’s Afrika Korps), although there is no evidence that these plans were ever carried out. If the VK 9.03 were also intended to be deployed with similar units, then it stands to reason that Tropen modifications would have been required.
Despite these many setbacks and diversions, the VK 9.03 project refused to die. On 3rd December 1941, the Panzer II n.A. (VK 9.03) was included for the first time in the monthly reports compiled by the Amtsgruppe für Industrielle Rüstung (Group for Armaments Manufacture – abbreviated as Wa J Rü in German records), which set production targets for the next six months. According to this report, the first VK 9.03 would be completed in May 1942. In fact, this estimate was later revised in the January 1942 report, which projected the construction of one VK 9.03 in April, three in May and five in June 1942. Yet meanwhile, M.A.N was still struggling to finish the VK 9.01 0-Serie, which continued to trickle out of the assembly halls in tiny batches into 1942.
Evidently, the economic and technological constraints looming over VK 9.03 production were not factored into the Waffenamt’s schedules.
A representation of what the Panzerspähwagen II Ausführung M may have looked like had it entered service in 1942. It is shown painted in a coat of gray RAL 7021 Dunkelgrau, the standard camouflage scheme for German tanks at the time of this project’s development. Illustration by Alexe Pavel, funded by our Patreon campaign.
VK 9.03 for Four: The Panzerspähwagen II Ausf. M
The exact purpose of the VK 9.03 and its place in the German Army was complicated yet more by the bifurcation of the project into two separate tanks, which only served to further blur the lines between the various M.A.N designs for an improved Panzer II.
During its aforementioned summary of Tropen modifications released on 13 December 1941, the Waffenamt referred to a ‘Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf. H und M (VK 9.03)’. This marks the first surviving mention of an initiative to develop a specialized version of the VK 9.03 for armored reconnaissance. Known by various designations, including Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. M (VK 9.03), Panzerkampfwagen II neuer Art (VK 9.03) Aufbau VK 13.03, Panzerspähwagen II Ausf. M, and Panzerspähwagen II Ausf. MAN, this was essentially an effort to mate the VK 9.03 hull with the superstructure and turret designed for the VK 13.03 (later known as ‘Luchs’).
Unfortunately, little is known about the genesis of this idea, as few documents concerning its development are known to have survived. Consequently, all that is available to piece together the history of this tank are a few disconnected fragments and off-hand mentions.
Nevertheless, the Pz.Sp.Wg. II Ausf. M did not simply spring out of the ether. In the aforementioned Schwerpunktprogramm (Priority Program) of 30 May 1941, in which the Heereswaffenamt had laid out its grandiose plans for long-range mass production of the VK 9.03, several different variants based on the VK 9.03 chassis were mentioned. Among these was a VK 9.03 Pz.Sp.Wg., of which 8,111 were deemed to be required for reconnaissance in various infantry, motorized, Panzer, pioneer, and Panzer-Jäger units. These would replace the less mobile wheeled armored cars that currently fulfilled these roles. It is therefore likely that the order to develop the Pz.Sp.Wg. II Ausf. M sprang from these requirements.
Ironically, this barren historical record is somewhat counterbalanced by the existence of a surviving data sheet for the Pz.Sp.Wg. II Ausf. M released on 5 March 1942, thanks to which we have access to a plethora of proposed technical specifications for the Ausf. M; even more so than the Ausf. H. These details provide an insight into what the Ausf. M may have looked like and its potential capabilities.
The primary difference between the Ausf. H and the Ausf. M was the superstructure and turret. Whereas the Ausf. H would likely have used a one-man turret similar to that designed for the VK 9.01, the Ausf. M lifted the superstructure and turret directly from the VK 13.03. This created sufficient space to add an extra crew member in the turret, thereby relieving the commander of his extra duties involved in servicing the main armament.
Asides from other minor changes to the specifications, in most other respects the Ausf. M remained the same as the Ausf. H. It retained all of the same major components, including the 200 hp Maybach HL 66 P engine, the distinctive VK 9 series suspension, and the wider Kgs 63/360/90 tracks. By keeping the same suspension and 36 cm wide tracks, the VK 9.03 maintained excellent flotation, having a ground pressure of 0.81 kg/sq cm. The proposed transmission and steering system, perhaps the most important components in the VK 9 series given the headaches they caused for their engineers, was not specified. Armor thicknesses also remained constant, with 30 mm on the front, 20 mm on the sides and rear, 10 mm on the deck, and 5 mm on the belly, as did the overall combat weight at 10.5 tonnes.
The armament remained unchanged too. Just like the Ausf. H, the Ausf. M would have had a 2 cm Kw.K.38 cannon and M.G.34 (Pz.) machine gun fitted to a stabilized mount in the turret. 400 rounds of 2 cm Pz.Gr.Patr. (armor piercing) ammunition and 2,100 rounds of 7.92 mm M.G.34 ammunition would be stowed within the vehicle, as well as 192 rounds of 9 mm Parabellum ammunition for an M.P.38 submachine gun. Initially, a T.Z.F.6 monocular gunsight would be employed by the gunner to sight these weapons, but later this would have been replaced by a T.Z.F.12b. Rotating periscopes in the turret roof would provide visibility for the crew members in the turret, whilst the driver employed K.F.F.2 periscopes to see out when his armored visor was closed.
As a reconnaissance tank, among the most important pieces of equipment carried onboard the Ausf. M would have been the radios. An Fu 5 set was listed on the data sheet, although Doyle and Jentz state that this would have been supplemented by an Fu 12 with a star aerial when it was issued to a Panzer Aufklärungs Abteilung (Armored Reconnaissance Battalion). This latter radio had a longer range and was therefore necessary for communicating with elements higher in the command chain.
Equipped with the 200 hp Maybach HL 66 P, the Ausf. M had a power-to-weight ratio of 19 hp/tonne and could attain a maximum speed of 60 km/hr on roads or 30 km/hr cross-country. With sufficient room for 235 litres of petrol, it could cover 290 km on roads or 175 km cross-country, impressive figures for the standards of the time that would have been well-suited for a reconnaissance vehicle. It was also expected that the tank would be able to scale a vertical obstacle of 30 cm, climb a 30% gradient, cross a 60 cm wide trench and ford 1.4 metres of water without preparation.
Whilst these estimated specifications promised to result in an impressive reconnaissance vehicle that would have been mobile and maneuverable, it is important to note that these are merely projections. No examples are known to have been produced and it is probable that the Ausf. M would have suffered from the same reliability problems as its counterparts if it used the same troublesome transmissions and steering units. There are also some contradictions in the figures as reported in the books Panzer Tracts 2-2 and Panzer Tracts 20-2, both of which have sections on the Ausf. M. The figures used here have been chosen by the author on the basis of what look to be the correct specifications.
Ultimately then, the Ausf. M was just another dead end in the convoluted VK 9.03 development process. The fact that it used the superstructure and turret of the VK 13.03 was especially revealing in that it pointed to the inescapable reality that the VK 9 was losing traction in the face of competition from other designs. Although its designers could not have known at the time, the Ausf. M foreshadowed the outright replacement of the VK 9.03 by the VK 13.03.
A surviving VK 13.03, which received the official designation Panzer II Ausf. L, on display at The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK. Nicknamed the ‘Luchs’ (Lynx) by the Heer, 100 of these tanks would be produced between 1942 and 1943. Capable of carrying a four-man crew and fitted with simpler, proven automotive components, the VK 13.03 replaced the VK 9.03 in the search for a new model Panzer II after a period of uneasy coexistence between the two designs. Incidentally, the raised bracket located at the front-middle of the turret roof is for an Orterkompaß, a navigation device later proposed for the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen. Source: The Tank Museum
Dashed Hopes: The Cancellation of the VK 9.03
Regardless of these numerous distractions and diversions, M.A.N. continued to push on with the construction of the six VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell in preparation for a demonstration to be held in February 1942. However, even before these Versuchs-Fahrgestell had been completed, problems began to arise with the steering units. This was not an encouraging development, especially considering that the use of an advanced transmission and steering system to create a more mobile Panzer II was arguably the fundamental raison d’être for the VK 9 series. Indeed, similar issues with fickle three-stage steering units would also cripple the VK 9.01 project.
The impact of these difficulties in perfecting a working steering system were exposed in a meeting held on 27 December 1941 between M.A.N. staff and General Radlmeier. Herr Garnjost of M.A.N. informed Radlmeier that it was simply impossible to finish the three Versuchs-Fahrgestell in time for the February demonstration. In order to allow for some testing to be carried out as quickly as possible, an expedient solution involving the installation of a Kolben-Danek steering unit from the Panzer 38 (t) was proposed for the second Versuchs-Fahrgestell. All going well, this would allow for its completion by the end of January.
Meanwhile, the third Versuchs-Fahrgestell would await the arrival of a Maybach steering unit, which was expected to delay its completion until the end of February. It is not specified precisely which kind of Maybach steering unit was earmarked for this third trial chassis, but it is possible it could have been the LGL 15319 that was also fitted to the majority of the VK 9.01 and contracted for installation in the first VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell ordered in 1940.
Put simply, this meeting revealed that VK 9.03 production was dependent upon the resolution of the difficulties producing and using the steering units. This impression is reinforced by a M.A.N. meeting held on 10 January 1942, where officials openly questioned the possibility of mass producing the VK 9.03 with a three-stage steering unit and broached alternative solutions. The solution they proposed was replacing the steering unit with a M.A.N. design, presumably of more conventional operation. It was hoped that this would allow for the assembly of the first VK 9.03 hull in June 1942 and the production of the first complete series production tank at the beginning of August that same year.
In addition to the steering unit fiasco, this meeting also provides a glimpse into a less well-covered aspect of the VK 9 family’s history. Due to the loss of Daimler-Benz records after the war, almost nothing remains concerning the design, development, and production of the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 superstructures and turrets. Nevertheless, it appears from M.A.N. reports that the company struggled to produce a workable design in time, as there are allusions to delayed delivery of blueprints and drawings in surviving M.A.N. records. According to this report, missing turret floor and turret equipment schematics had pushed production back by four months and meant that M.A.N. would be unable to complete the first Aufbau until July 1942. Of course, without Daimler-Benz reports, it is not possible to evaluate the reasons behind these delays.
Nevertheless, the results of a trial carried out with one of the VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell in January 1942 suggested that there were more pressing issues with the automotive components. In a frustratingly enigmatic report of a meeting held between all the major M.A.N. and Wa Prüf 6 figures involved with the VK 9.03 (including Kniepkamp), the results of a 530 km test drive of a VK 9.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell were discussed. It is not entirely clear what the exact automotive configuration of this VK 9.03 trial chassis was, but the minutes indicate that it was not considered sufficient evidence to make a judgment on the three-stage steering units before comparative trials were carried out in February. Even so, the curious note that ‘in no case should the remarks from Blank [a mechanic involved with the trial] be allowed to fall into outside hands’ seems to imply that the results were less than stellar. Certainly, much to Kniepkamp’s dismay, M.A.N. representatives brought up the idea of replacing the steering units with a conventional clutch-brake system as installed on other Panzers.
Unable to stave off the inevitable any longer, M.A.N. and Wa Prüf 6 agreed on 3 February 1942 that the first 15 VK 9.03 series production hulls would use a simple clutch-brake steering system and a conventional Z.F. manual transmission. This was a far cry from Kniepkamp’s vision of a revolutionary mobility upgrade for the Panzer II and a stark indication that the VK 9.03 had reached a technological cul-de-sac.
The next mention of the VK 9.03 comes from a conference between Albert Speer and Hitler on 22 March 1942. During this meeting, Hitler agreed that the VK 9.03 could be fitted with an HL 66 engine, SSG 48 transmission and a multiple-stage steering unit derived from B.M.M.’s design for the Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) n.A. light tank. It was estimated that this combination of automotive components could result in speeds of up to 60 km/h being obtained.
Amazingly, just five days later on 27 March 1942, the entire VK 9.03 project was canceled in a sudden and abrupt volte-face. In the new production programme issued by the Heeres Waffenamt, M.A.N. was to dispense with the production of 250 VK 9.03 and 250 VK 13.03 in favor of producing 500 VK 13.03 instead. In a context of greater economic rationalization presided over by Speer, who had been appointed Minister of Armaments following the death of Fritz Todt in a plane crash on 8 February 1942, there was simply no room for the experimental and wasteful VK 9.03.
A Failed Resurrection: The VK 9.03 after March 1942 and the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen
At the time of the cancellation of the VK 9.03 in March 1942, it is unclear how many of the Versuchs-Fahrgestell had been completed. It is known that at one point as many as six were under contract, although later reports from 1942 only mention three under construction. Moreover, at least one of these hulls was used in trials and test drives, including the one discussed in January 1942 and the aforementioned trials with a M.A.N. diesel engine mentioned in February 1942.
The history of German trials vehicles is understandably shadowy and obscure. Spared from fighting on the front, these vehicles were rarely photographed and only occasionally mentioned in reports. Even so, they were often retained by the factories or by the Heereswaffenamt as testbeds for trialing new equipment. Such was the case with the VK 9.03, one of which was reportedly being used by Maybach as late as 1945 for testing a new HL 90 engine (14 of these were produced between 1941 and 1944), a preselective Olvar transmission and a Bauart Renk hydraulic steering unit; a fitting end for a design defined by its relationship to experimental automotive components. Unfortunately, no photographs of these trial chassis are known to have survived and details remain scarce.
More puzzlingly, work on an artillery observation variant of the VK 9.03 appears to have continued after March 1942. According to a Wa Prüf 6 report released on 1 July 1942, work was ongoing on designing a VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen (armored artillery observation vehicle) for motorized artillery and Panzer Regiments, with the production of 30 contracted vehicles expected to start in 1943. Like the VK 9.03 Ausf. M, the impetus for this design probably dated back to the 1941 Panzerprogramm, which stipulated the provision of VK 9.03 for artillery observation purposes. However, this does not explain why the Waffenamt had elected to continue work on this specific variant, as it makes little sense to continue working on a design for such a specialized version, given that such vehicles were usually converted from standard mass-produced vehicles. This is a prime example of how the many gaps in the documentary record render it difficult for modern researchers to piece together the logic (or lack thereof) behind armored vehicle development.
Whatever the story behind the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen, a single Versuchsgerät VK 9.03 mit Kuppel 1303 B (trial equipment with the cupola 1303 B) was reported as having been completed by September 1941. Usually translated as ‘device’ or ‘equipment’, it is unclear precisely what ‘gerät’ refers to. Possible answers include a piece of specialized equipment or, noting the reference to a cupola, a turret design, but this is just speculation.
In order to fulfill its purpose, the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen was to be fitted with a rangefinder, Orterkompaß (a kind of orientation compass that could be installed on top of the turret of the Luchs, Panzer IV, Panther and Tiger), observation equipment and appropriate radio sets.
Whilst it may have succeeded in temporarily outlasting its parent tank design, the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen almost certainly suffered the same fate as its relations. Asides from this brief reference, there are no further known references to this vehicle available.
The Orterkompaß 38 (OKo.38) showing the compass itself, its special 300 mm long support, and its base. This device, or one similar to it, was earmarked for the VK 9.03 Panzerbeobachtungswagen. Derived from a type of compass developed for the Luftwaffe in the 1930s, the Oko.38 was intended to assist with driving at night or in bad weather. These would have been mounted on small rectangular plates welded to the top of tank turrets. The cylindrical support was designed to increase the distance between the compass and the tank, thereby reducing magnetic interference from the steel. Although a few examples survive until this day, there is little evidence that these were ever mass produced or widely used. Source: panther-ausfuehrung-g.blogspot.com
Doomed to Die?: The VK 9.03 in Retrospect
The VK 9.03 was a flawed design that would have been unsuitable for mass production and out of its depth on the battlefields from 1942 onwards. Although the new automotive components envisaged for this tank could have resulted in a more mobile Panzer II, the complexity and unreliability of these various transmissions and steering units ultimately proved to be a critical issue.
Worse still, the VK 9.03 did not offer any other sufficient improvements over the VK 9.01 and the Panzer II Ausf. F then in production, namely in the realms of firepower and protection. Consequently, the failure of the transmissions and steering units undercut the entire purpose of the VK 9.03 since, without those features, there was nothing left to justify its existence. This unfortunate fact was made all the more apparent by the emergence of the VK 13.03, which provided all of the benefits of the VK 9.03 in a tank able to accommodate a four-man crew.
Yet, in the chaotic and irrational German tank procurement system of the mid-war period, the existence of deep flaws did not always automatically result in cancellation of the entire project. Instead, designs often gained a momentum of their own and were able to devour funds, resources, and time, even if the Heer had no specific need or desire for them. Such was the case with the VK 9.01, which outlasted its successor and continued in limited production until 1943 despite suffering from the same problems as the VK 9.03. Evaluated with this in mind, the VK 9.03 was also the victim of circumstance.
At the time when the crucial decisions were being made about the VK 9.03 production schedule, Albert Speer, the new Minister for Armaments Production, was attempting to rationalize the Nazi economy and push it towards a total war footing. Ironically, the idea expressed in the Panzerprogramm 41 to mass produce an entire family of armored vehicles on the VK 9.03 hull represented a rare instance of sensible joined-up thinking in the procurement process, but given the doubts among M.A.N. officials that mass production of the VK 9.03 could ever be achieved in the near future, this was little more than a pipe dream. Whilst the cancellation of the VK 9.03 was not a foregone conclusion, these production obstacles and its growing redundancy in the face of superior alternatives and changing economic circumstances conspired to kill the project in 1942.
Nevertheless, whilst this represented the end of the VK 9 series of armored vehicles, efforts to improve the Panzer II persisted. These would culminate in the VK 13.03 or Panzer II Ausf. L, better known as the ‘Luchs’ (Lynx), which built upon some elements of the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 whilst dispensing with some of the more problematic aspects of these designs.
Specifications (Ausf. H & M)*
M: 4.63 x 2.48 x 2.05 metres
H:3 Men (Commander/Gunner, Radio Operator, and Driver) M:4 (Driver, Radio Operator, Commander, Gunner)
Maybach HL 66P producing 200 hp at 3,200 rpm
H: Maybach 8-speed preselective VG20417 transmission LG 45L (LGL 15319) steering unit (these components for the first Versuchs-Fahrgestell)
H: 65 km/h on roads M: 60 km/h (road), 30 km/h (off-road)
M: 290 km (road), 175 km (off-road)
Torsion bar, 30 cm ground clearance
H: 1x 2 cm Kw.K.38 cannon, 1 x M.G.34 (P) M: 1x 2 cm Kw.K.38 cannon (400 rounds), 1 x M.G.34 (P) (400 rounds), 1 x M.P.38 (192 rounds)
Armor (hull/turret front)
30 mm frontal hull and turret
20 mm sides and rear
10 mm deck
5.5 mm belly
At least 1 hull
*Note that these are projected specifications as no series production VK 9.03 are known to have been completed.
Sources and Further Reading
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.2-2 Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. G, H, J, L, and M: Development and Production from 1938 to 1943 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2007).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, T.L., Panzer Tracts No.20-2 Paper Panzers: Aufklaerungs-, Beobachtungs-, and Flak Panzer (Reconnaissance, Observation, and Anti-Aircraft) (Maryland, Panzer Tracts, 2002).
Doyle, H.L., and Jentz, H.L., Panzer Tracts No.23 Panzer Production from 1933 to 1945 (Maryland: Panzer Tracts, 2011).
Spielberger, W.J., Der Panzer-Kampfwagen I und II und ihre Abarten: Einschließlich der Panzerentwicklungen der Reichswehr (Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag, 1974). Translated into English as Panzer I and II and their Variants: From Reichswehr to Wehrmacht (Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing US, 2007). Antonov, V., ‘Schwere Panzerbüchse 41’ (Russian). English version HERE. Jairo, ‘Orterkompass en el Panther Ausf. G’ Pasholok, Y., ‘Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf. G: The Fruit of Unending Labour’ (Russian). English version HERE.
Unsurprisingly for such an obscure and poorly documented tank, little has been written on the VK 9.03. Although the VK 9 series was mentioned in the older, classic reference books concerning Second World War German armored fighting vehicles, most of the information presented in these works is based on faulty post-war Allied intelligence reports or assumptions, contributing to many errors and misleading statements. This has contributed to the proliferation of misunderstanding and confusion concerning this series of tanks in print and online media, with one salient example being the mislabelling of the Pz.Sfl.Ic tank destroyer (based on the VK 9.01 chassis) as the Panzer II Ausf. H (VK 9.03) in the popular online game War Thunder.
The most important and reliable work of reference on the VK 9.03 is Panzer Tracts 2-2 written by the doyens of German Second World War AFV history, Jentz and Doyle. This book provides a wealth of information derived from primary source material, helping to set the record straight without indulging in extensive speculation. An earlier work by the same authors, Panzer Tracts 20-2, offers a less comprehensive summary of the VK 9.03, though readers should note that there is some minor contradictions between the two, possibly the result of typos in the text.
A detailed account of the VK 9 series based on the work of Jentz and Doyle is also offered in an article by Russian historian Yuri Pasholok that has been translated into English. This article, as well as the others in the Panzer II series, are particularly useful for contextualising the VK 9.03 and investigating its links to contemporary designs.
Asides from the works mentioned above, all other sources of information concerning the VK 9.03 should be treated with caution given their tendency to rely on outdated reference material or other confused commentators. Until any new information surfaces concerning these machines, Panzer Tracts 2-2 will remain the definitive source of information on the VK 9.03.
In the summer of 1938, the German Army (Heer) authorised the development of a new model of the Panzer II light tank in an effort to create a more mobile armored fighting vehicle that could supplant its technologically inferior predecessors in the Panzer Divisions. Known initially as the VK 9.01, this project encapsulated the design philosophy of one influential figure in German armored fighting vehicle design: Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp. Convinced that successful tank design revolved around delivering the maximum firepower at the highest possible speed, Kniepkamp was an advocate of the latest high-performance technology developed by German automotive engineers. Guided by these tenets, the VK 9.01 project made use of many sophisticated yet technically immature automotive components in order to meet these stipulations; a decision which engendered constant delays and frequent modifications to the design.
These technological problems were to hound the VK 9.01 throughout its history. Hampered by the fickle nature of its advanced drivetrain, the VK 9.01 never fulfilled its destiny of becoming a mass produced replacement for the Panzer II. Instead, the project floundered in a state of uncertainty, as other competing projects to improve the Panzer II, including the VK 9.03, the VK 13.03 (better known as the ‘Luchs’), and the VK 16.01 (Panzer II Ausf.J) came to show greater promise. Faced with these many hurdles, the mass production of the VK 9.01 was constantly subject to delays, changing requirements, and the threat of cancellation. It is remarkable, then, that not only did this project continue to be developed until 1943, but that it also saw limited production and, even more surprisingly, combat.
Due to its obscurity and the paucity of published material available on this esoteric tank, the VK 9.01 has been understandably overshadowed in the historiography of Second World War German armored fighting vehicles by the more iconic designs, such as the Panther and the Tigers. Nevertheless, the history of the VK 9.01 provides many insights into the disintegration of the pre-war system of German armored fighting vehicle procurement. Its convoluted development illustrates the pernicious ramifications of a process that prioritised the pursuit of technological fantasies over the tactical requirements of the Heer. Conceived just before the start of the Second World War, in the midst of the collapse of the tank procurement system, the inception of the VK 9.01 is inextricably intertwined with this widening gulf between German tank design and reality.
The Need for Speed: Heinrich Kniepkamp and the Panzer II
At the beginning of the Second World War, the Panzerkampfwagen II was by far one of the most numerous front-line tanks in the Panzer Divisions. Although it has been denigrated as little more than an interim training tank in several popular post-war accounts, the Panzer II was an important step in pre-war German tank design, one that eventually evolved into an effective light tank for the mid-1930s. Nevertheless, the initial incarnations of this machine (Ausf.a/1, a/2, a/3, and b) were hamstrung by several problems that reflected their origins in the earlier Kleintraktor (the predecessor of the Panzer I), most notably an anemic engine and a frail suspension. These technological deficiencies not only hampered mobility and caused breakdowns, but they also prevented the Panzer II from being up-armored lest the weak suspension collapsed under the strain. Consequently, subsequent versions of the Panzer II (Ausf.c, A, B, C, and F) were produced with a much improved leaf-spring suspension coupled to a larger hull and a more powerful engine, all of which combined to result in a more reliable chassis that would continue to be produced in one form or another until 1944.
However, there were those in both industry and the Heeres Waffenamt (the army ordnance department responsible for designing, testing, producing, and deploying new weapons systems) who believed that these improvements did not go far enough. Chief among these figures was Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp, a gifted and influential engineer, who had designed transmissions for Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (M.A.N.) before becoming a senior figure in Waffen Prüfwesen 6 (Wa Prüf 6), the sub-division of the Heeres Waffenamt tasked with overseeing the design of tanks and other motorised equipment. In 1936, Kniepkamp was appointed as the head of Wa Prüf 6, where he was able to exercise considerable control over German tank design. A leading proponent of torsion bar suspension, Kniepkamp used this influence to initiate the development of half-tracks and tanks fitted with this suspension in conjunction with large diameter road wheels, track links with lubricated joints, and complex transmission and steering systems that were intended to allow for fast, yet easy to control vehicles. Aware of its reliance on what he regarded as outdated leaf spring suspension, Kniepkamp authorised efforts by M.A.N. to embark upon several additional redesigns of the Panzer II chassis with the aforementioned suspension features, regardless of the absence of any specific requests from the Heer.
Coinciding with Kniepkamp’s ascendancy was a breakdown in the German Army’s strict procurement process. During the time of the Weimar Republic and the early years of the Third Reich, the onus was placed on Inspektorat 6 (In 6) of the Allgemeines Heeresamt (General Army Office) to outline the desired characteristics for future armored fighting vehicles. These concepts were subsequently converted into technical specifications by Wa Prüf 6 of the Heeres Waffenamt, which were then passed on to engineers working at the designing firms competing for the production contracts. Under this system, In 6 controlled the direction of tank design and the awarding of contracts, ensuring that engineers were moderated by budgetary restraints and the requirement to produce designs that were able to fulfill specific tactical needs.
However, Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle have persuasively argued that this system was overturned towards the end of the 1930s, as the primacy shifted towards Wa Prüf 6. Contrary to the intended operation of the system, the personnel in Wa Prüf 6 began to submit a myriad of designs to In 6 without solicitation. As these designs were not initiated in accordance with army requirements, the engineers were no longer restrained by the rigid system of checks and balances upheld by the previous system. Unimpeded by stringent budgetary constraints or the stifling parameters of In 6 proposals, German engineers were free to pursue cutting-edge technology and ideas, the majority of which were too unreliable to be fit for the battlefield. The result of this collapse in design oversight was that German armored fighting vehicle designs increasingly came to reflect the desires of engineers enamored with state-of-the-art technology, rather than the requirements of the troops on the ground.
Panzer II on Steroids: The VK 9.01 Project
It was against this background that Wa Prüf 6 submitted a proposal to develop a more mobile Panzer II that would be capable of attaining an exceptionally high speed. Even though the Panzer II with improved leaf spring suspension had only entered production the previous summer, and in spite of the fact that M.A.N. was in the process of refining Kniepkamp’s design for a Panzer II with torsion bar suspension (the Ausf.D), In 6 responded positively to these suggestions. Thus, on June 18th 1938, In 6 authorised work to commence on yet another project to develop a new Panzer II, which received the designation VK 9.01. Part of the VK (Vollketten – Fully Tracked) index system, this designation signified that this project was the first design for a fully tracked vehicle in the 9 metric ton weight class. As with the other Panzer II designs, contracts were awarded to M.A.N. for the development of the chassis, whilst Daimler-Benz was responsible for designing the superstructure and turret.
Note to the reader: For the purposes of consistency and clarity, I have elected to use the format VK X.0X or VK XX.0X when referring to VK index numbers in this article. Publications and period documents refer to VK designations in a multitude of different ways, thus VK 901 or V.K.901 can both be considered ‘correct’ alternatives to VK 9.01.
Following Kniepkamp’s belief that speed was paramount in tank design, the VK 9.01 did not receive more armor protection but instead maintained the same configuration as the Panzer II Ausf.D, with 30 mm of frontal armor on both the turret and the hull, accompanied by 14.5 mm of armor plate covering the sides. The armament was also unchanged, with the significant exception that the 20 mm Kw.K.38 autocannon and its coaxial 7.92 mm M.G.34 were to be equipped with a vertical stabilizer. In keeping with the VK 9.01’s prioritisation of mobility, the stabilisation would allow for greater accuracy when firing on the move. Furthermore, the VK 9.01 retained the three-man crew of the Panzer II, housing a driver and radio operator who sat side-by-side at the front of the tank, and a commander in the turret, who was also responsible for operating the weaponry. Considering the role of light tanks in providing reconnaissance, isolating the commander in a small one-man turret was a notable flaw in the VK 9.01’s design, especially when compared to the two-man turrets of its competitors, such as the VK 9.03 and the VK 13 series.
It was in the realms of the suspension and the drivetrain that the VK 9.01 was to receive the most significant attention. Kniepkamp’s influence is obvious here, and the design of the VK 9.01 is in many ways a scaled up version of the VK 6.01, a parallel project to improve the Panzer I. Drawing on Kniepkamp’s previous work designing half-tracks for the Heer, the VK 9.01 was to have torsion bar suspension with five relatively large overlapping road wheels. This overlapping suspension system was chosen because it would give the VK 9.01 a short track contact length of only 1.8m, which combined with its short wheelbase of 2m to provide a remarkable steering ratio of 1:1. Thanks to this suspension, the VK 9.01 would be exceptionally maneuverable, able to make tight turns and neutral steer on level ground. Working in conjunction with this suspension was to be an advanced, yet easy to operate, LG 45 triple-stage steering unit. This system would allow the driver to select three different steering radii in each gear (ranging from as low as 4 metres to as high as 332 metres) by turning the steering wheel 20, 40, or 60 degrees in the desired direction. Connected to this steering unit was to be a Maybach VG 15319 pre-selective 8-speed transmission, a gearbox that would be considerably easier for untrained personnel to operate than the manual transmissions then in service on the Panzer II. Powered by a newly developed Maybach HL 45 motor producing 150 horsepower at 3800 rpm, the VK 9.01 was capable of reaching a top speed of 67 km/h.
In theory, these advanced technological components promised to create an easy to operate, highly agile Panzer II. In reality, however, the steering units and transmissions would be a source of constant trouble for the VK 9.01 and its designers.
High Hopes: Mass Production of the VK 9.01
On October 11th 1938, four months after In 6 had authorised the VK 9.01 project, M.A.N. presented a full-scale wooden model of the VK 9.01 to representatives from Wa Prüf 6. The delegation noted the somewhat cramped fighting compartment, and asked for the wooden model to be inspected again, this time with the radio set and other missing equipment installed. Notwithstanding these concerns about the restricted space inside the fighting compartment, work on the project continued after this presentation.
Initially, M.A.N. was contracted to assemble five Versuchs-Fahrgestell (trial chassis) for the VK 9.01. Subsequently, Wa Prüf 6 awarded contracts to M.A.N. for the production of a 0-Serie of 30 VK 9.01 Fahrgestell (chassis), whilst Daimler-Benz was contracted to produce the same number of Aufbau (turrets and superstructures). This 0-Serie, which was upped in July 1939 to 75 VK 9.01 chassis, was essentially a pre-production pilot run, intended to allow engineers to test the tanks and iron out any flaws in the design before the assembly plants commenced mass production. However, by the eve of the Second World War, these straightforward production plans had already become more complicated, as the designers sought to incorporate more advanced technology into the design. Between August and September 1939, the contracts for the 0-Serie were altered so that the final 45 of the 75 0-Serie chassis would be completed as VK 9.02. These VK 9.02 chassis were to be equipped with an improved LG 45 L steering unit (later re-designated as the LGL 15319), but would maintain the same engine and transmission as the VK 9.01. This process of constant tinkering with the VK 9.01 design proved to be a recurring theme in the project’s history, as incremental improvements were proposed and trialed even though the VK 9.01 was rapidly becoming obsolescent on Second World War battlefields.
When Wa Prüf 6 first awarded the contracts for the VK 9.01, it was projected that the first 30 0-Serie chassis would be completed by the end of 1939: 5 in July, 10 in August, 10 in September, and 5 in October. In addition to this, the second batch of 45 VK 9.01 0-Serie chassis would follow in 1940, with 10 in May, 10 in June, 10 in July, and 15 in August. Acknowledging that these plans would not materialise, in July 1939, Wa Prüf 6 informed M.A.N. that a substantial contract for mass production of the VK 9.01 was expected to be awarded in November 1940, with the first deliveries expected in November 1941.
The experiences of the September 1939 invasion of Poland renewed the impetus behind the plans to mass produce the VK 9.01, as well as the VK 16.01, a contemporaneous development to up-armor the Panzer II. During the campaign, the Panzertruppen had incurred heavy losses from Polish anti-tank rifles and modern 37 mm Bofors-derived wz.36 anti-tank guns, which could easily penetrate the thin 14.5 mm rounded frontal armor of the Panzer II. As a result, Panzer IIs were retrofitted with 30 mm thick frontal armor plates and M.A.N. was implored by Wa Prüf 6 to speed up development of the VK 9.01 and VK 16.01. Therefore, by 25 April 1940, the 0-Serie production plans were revised, with the first 30 0-Serie VK 9.01 to be delivered in the period between September and November 1940, followed by the remaining 45 in March through June 1941. Decisions on mass production would be made sometime between December 1940 and March 1941, depending on the results of testing. At the same time, the VK 9.01 was first referred to as the Panzerkampfwagen II neuer Art (new model), underlining the belief that the VK 9.01 would be the successor to the Panzer II. As a contingency plan, the production of another series of the Panzer II fitted with the current leaf-spring suspension as well as stabilised weapons installed was also proposed. In the end, In 6 would follow through on this plan by authorising the production of the Panzer II Ausf.F, although it would not be fitted with stabilised weapons.
Despite the limited progress that had been made on the VK 9.01 by the middle of 1940, M.A.N. was confident that they would secure lucrative mass production contracts for these designs. Reporting on a meeting with Oberstleutnant Fichtner of Wa Prüf 6 on 24 May 1940, M.A.N. optimistically claimed that the firm was in an ‘especially favourable situation’ because the VK 9.01 and VK 16.01 were of ‘great military importance’. Later in May 1940, M.A.N. projected that they could produce between 45-70 VK 9.01 per month, alongside assembling Panzer IIIs. Considering the obsolescence of the Panzer II during the later invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, this belief in the future of a design with such thin armor and limited firepower appears to be misplaced hubris from engineers sequestered from the battlefield in their ivory tower. However, it is important to note that this report was compiled not long after the breakthrough at Sedan and the trapping of Belgian, British, and French forces in northern France and Belgium, where the limitations of the Panzer II in combat had not proven to be a significant obstacle towards German military success.
In stark contrast to these grandiose plans, the tangible results for the VK 9.01 project by the beginning of June 1940 were far less illustrious. According to a January 1940 status report on the development and production of tanks, M.A.N. noted that the armored hulls for the VK 9.01 trial chassis had not been delivered, let alone those for the 0-Serie. This appears to conflict with a later report from 1st July 1942, which states that one of the five Versuchs-Fahrgestell had been completed by December 1939. Due to the fragmentary nature of surviving records detailing VK 9.01 production, it is impossible to establish the facts of this situation by precisely identifying when all of the VK 9.01 trial chassis were completed.
Confronted with this sluggish progress, M.A.N. abandoned the untenable production schedule devised on 25th April 1940, reporting, on 25th November 1940, that they now planned to complete the first 45 VK 9.01 chassis from May to September 1941. This meant that mass production would not be able to begin until autumn 1941, provided no further obstacles were encountered.
Death by a Thousand Modifications: The Production History of the VK 9.01
Even as M.A.N. looked forward to mass producing the VK 9.01, the future of this project was becoming more and more precarious. Before the first VK 9.01 0-Serie chassis had been completed, the Heer was already anticipating the need for an improved Panzer II n.A. with a higher top speed and greater armored protection. As a result, in June 1940, M.A.N. was awarded contracts by Wa Prüf 6 to develop yet another iteration of the VK 9 series: the VK 9.03. Considering that the two tanks were intended to fulfill exactly the same tactical role, this new development did not augur well for the mass production of the VK 9.01.
At the same time as the preliminary work on the VK 9.03 commenced, the VK 9.01 0-Serie languished in production limbo, trapped in an interminable series of modifications to the automotive components of the design. The plans in September 1939 to produce the first 30 VK 9.01 with LGR 15319 steering units and the remainder with the LGL 15319 were adjusted on 25th July 1940. Now, only 20 VK 9.01 would be equipped with the LGR 15319; all of the rest would receive the LGL 15319.
Hitherto unchanged from the original design specifications, the transmission also underwent a similar ordeal, as the engineers strove to incorporate the latest technology into the VK 9.01. In April 1941, only one month before the VK 9.01 0-Serie production was scheduled to begin, it was suddenly decreed that new transmissions developed by Maybach (the OG 20417) and Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen (the SMG 50) were to replace the VG 15319 transmission in all VK 9.01, save for 11 chassis. Unfortunately, there is no published surviving evidence explaining the rationale behind the design for these new transmissions, nor are there any documents outlining the reasons why they were ordered to replace the VG 15319 in the majority of the VK 9.01 0-Serie chassis. Likewise, the decision to maintain 11 VK 9.01 with the old transmission also remains a mystery. Regardless of these whys and wherefores, the complicated mélange of automotive components that were envisaged for the small 0-Serie of 75 VK 9.01 exemplifies the deleterious impacts of an unfocused and uncontrolled design process.
In light of this constant tinkering, it is not surprising that the production of the VK 9.01 did not match the projections. Due to the fact that the VK 9.01 never entered mass production, it is only intermittently mentioned in monthly reports from the Amtsgruppe für Industrielle Rüstung (Group for Armaments Manufacture – abbreviated as Wa J Rü in German records), the department of the Heeres Waffenamt responsible for administering production contracts for equipment and spare parts. As a consequence of the scarcity of documentary evidence, the precise details of VK 9.01 production are difficult to pin down. Nevertheless, it is clear that the production realities did not align with expectations. Compared to M.A.N.’s plans to complete 45 VK 9.01 chassis between May and September of 1941, only 15 had been delivered by 18th August 1941. Indeed, prior to July 1941, two OG 20417 and two SMG 50 transmissions had not even been delivered for the four remaining Versuchs-Fahrgestell.
Records also indicate that turrets and superstructures were spasmodically fitted to the VK 9.01 0-Serie chassis during 1941 and 1942. The first of these complete tanks may have been completed in April 1941, when Wa J Rü recorded delivery of a single Panzer II n.A., followed by another two in August the same year. Disappearing from the records for the rest of 1941, the VK 9.01 resurfaces in Wa J Rü notes from early 1942, which register the delivery of six in January, accompanied by three more in February.
Ultimately, the production of the VK 9.01 was a classic case of too little, too late. By 1942, the fighting on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union had shown that thinly armored tanks were exceedingly vulnerable, and of limited combat utility outside reconnaissance and scouting. Correspondingly, the emphasis on design and mass production switched to heavier armed and armored tanks, such as the VK 30.02, which would evolve into the famous Panther tank. Worse still, the VK 9.01 and VK 9.03 projects were displaced in the reconnaissance role by the VK 13.03, which benefited from the automotive technology refined in its predecessors. Packaging this automotive technology into a design with better armor protection and sufficient space for a four-man crew, the VK 13.03 offered a more appealing option for a mass produced light scout tank, 100 of which would later be produced as the Panzer II Ausf.L ‘Luchs’.
As these realities caught up with the VK 9 series, the contracts suffered the consequences. In March 1942, the VK 9.03 project was unceremoniously cancelled by the Heeres Waffenamt. Having advanced closer to achieving actual production than the VK 9.03, the VK 9.01 was not cancelled altogether, but the contract for the 0-Serie was cut by 20 chassis in July 1942 (from 75 to 55) and the sought after mass production contract never materialised. Known since June 1942 by its formal designation as the Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G, the VK 9.01 continued to be produced by M.A.N. at a slow pace for the rest of 1942. According to a report from 17th February 1943, 45 VK 9.01 0-Serie chassis had been completed at M.A.N. by the end of 1942, with another scheduled for completion later that month, after which time they would be displaced on the assembly room floors by the more important Panther tank.
These scant records make it exceedingly difficult to provide definitive figures concerning the production of the VK 9.01. It is unknown how many of the VK 9.01 0-Serie chassis were fitted with turrets and superstructures to make complete tanks. The records from Wa J Rue suggest at least 12 were completed in this way, but it is also possible that more could have been completed. It is also unknown how many of the VK 9.01 were fitted with each of the respective steering units and transmissions proposed for this design. It is not even known whether or not the extra chassis scheduled for completion in February 1943 was ever finished, meaning that oft-given figure of 45 VK 9.01 0-Serie chassis completed could actually be 46.
Details concerning the production of superstructures and turrets by Daimler-Benz Werk 40 are even sketchier than those for the chassis. The sum of knowledge on this matter amounts to the fact that 60 sets of superstructures and turrets were completed at Daimler-Benz between the contract being awarded in June 1938 and the end of 1942, along with 9 sets of turrets and superstructures completed out of M.A.N.’s contract for 25 sets.
Faced with these significant gaps in our knowledge regarding the VK 9.01, it is likely that many aspects of this project will remain shrouded in mystery, unless new information comes to light in future publications on this subject.
Delving into Details: The Curious Case of the Ausf.G1, G3, and G4
The enigmatic history of the VK 9.01 is not merely confined to the production data (or lack thereof). Like many German armored fighting vehicles during the Second World War, the VK 9.01 received multiple designations throughout its history, including Panzerkampfwagen II neuer Art, Sonderkraftfahrzeug (Special purpose vehicle) 121/1, and Panzerkampfwagen II Ausführung G.
However, one designation, in particular, raises some thought-provoking questions about the VK 9.01 and its history. The designation in question refers to the VK 9.01 as the ‘Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G1, G3, und G4’, and was published as the title of a technical manual, specifically D651/36 issued in November 1942, concerning the ‘Description, Operation, and Maintenance of the Chassis’.
What makes this designation unusual is that it contains numerical suffixes after the Ausführung letter, referring to a G1, G3, and G4. Such a practice is extremely uncommon in German armored fighting vehicle (AFV) designations. Usually, there is simply an Ausführung letter such as ‘A’ or ‘D’ without any numerical suffix. In the few instances where this designation pattern does occur, as for example with the Jagdpanther Ausf.G1 and G2, the numerical suffixes are used to indicate production differences or different variants of the AFV in question. Hence, it is probable that the G1, G3, and G4 designations allude to separate variants of the VK 9.01. This, in turn, begs the question of what separates these variants from one another, and why is there no mention of an Ausf.G2?
Unfortunately, all of the publications relating to the VK 9.01 do not even mention this puzzle, let alone provide an explanation for these numerical appendages. Moreover, primary source material uncovered by Spielberger, Jentz, Doyle, and others has so far failed to shed any more light on this mystery.
One possible solution to this enigma may be that the different designations refer to the various combinations of steering units and transmissions proposed and equipped on the VK 9.01 throughout its lifetime. This is a logical hypothesis considering that these variations in steering units and transmissions would have been precisely the kind of essential details one would expect to find mentioned in a technical manual.
However, it is important to note that it is equally possible that these designations refer to other differences for which there is no surviving documentation, or that they mean something entirely different altogether. The historiography of German armored fighting vehicles is replete with instances of seemingly logical assumptions proving to be wildly inaccurate upon the discovery of new information, so it is wise to avoid extensive speculation.
The primary reason for mentioning this conundrum is therefore not to provide an answer to these questions, but to highlight an anomaly that has been overlooked in the hope that it will precipitate more discussion on this issue and perhaps even the discovery of new material.
Putting the VK 9.01 Through its Paces: The Trials at Berka and St Johann
In April 1941, at the same time as the new transmissions were ordered to be fitted to the majority of the VK 9.01s, a major trial exercise involving ten 0-Serie VK 9.01 was directed to take place. This trial would be conducted at Berka, a training and testing centre in the German province of Thuringia. It would involve five 0-Serie VK 9.01 that had the SMG 50 transmission installed, as well as five 0-Serie VK 9.01 fitted with the OG 20417. Unfortunately, the precise date of this trial is unknown, but based on the VK 9.01 chassis numbers involved (Fgst.Nr.150016, 150018, 150019, 150020, 150021, 150027, 150031, 150032, 150033), it must have taken place after August 1941, at which point only fifteen chassis had been delivered to the Heeres Waffenamt.
The trial was not an auspicious debut for the VK 9.01 project. Records compiled later by Major Esser from the Kummersdorf test centre reveal the extent of the debacle. Having covered 7253 km (4506 miles) at most, all five of Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen’s SMG 50 transmissions failed during the trial; one specimen fitted to Fgst.Nr. 150016 covered just 1766 km (1097 miles) prior to its breakdown. Maybach’s offering did not fare much better: two of their OG 20417 transmissions had also succumbed to mechanical failures by the end of the trial. Curiously, one of the Maybach OG 20417 transmissions that was earmarked for the exercises at Berka does not appear to have participated in the trial, as Major Esser’s notes only mention four 0-Serie VK 9.01 fitted with this transmission.
Even though it was still intended to fit 11 0-Serie VK 9.01 with the VG 15319 transmission, this setup was conspicuously absent from the major trial at Berka. Surviving documentation does mention that one Versuchs-Fahrgestell fitted with a VG 15319 transmission and an LGR 15319 steering unit was tested at Berka, on 9 July 1941, proving that this combination was tested on the VK 9.01. However, this note does not provide further elucidation on the results of this test, and later documents on the VK 9.01 appear to focus exclusively on the alternative transmissions, suggesting that the VG 15319 was not developed further.
Following the trial at Berka, both Maybach and Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen continued to test their transmissions in VK 9.01 chassis. During the winter of 1941/2, one of the VK 9.01 equipped with the SMG 50 transmission that had participated in the evaluation at Berka (Fgst.Nr.150021) was put through its paces at St Johann. Now one of the most popular tourist resorts in the Tyrol region of Austria, St Johann is a market town situated in a valley located near the mountainous Bavarian border. Used by the Heer to test tanks and other armored fighting vehicles in wintry conditions, the conditions at this facility provided an insight into how well their designs could cope with harsh environmental conditions, such as might be found in parts of the Soviet Union.
Frustratingly, there are no written records regarding the assessment of the VK 9.01 from its testing at St Johann, although photographic evidence shows that it was capable of traversing deep snow despite its shallow 30 cm ground clearance. Another SMG 50-equipped VK 9.01 (Fgst.Nr.150018) from the Berka trials also underwent winter testing at St Johann, as well as further testing in the vaguely defined ‘East’. In addition to these winter tests, Wa Prüf 6 contracted Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen to conduct driving trials with their SMG 50 transmission in a VK 9.01 between 1st January 1942 and 16th July 1943. This relatively long period of testing suggests that the SMG 50 transmission was still suffering problems and that it was far from ready for any form of mass production.
Information on the testing conducted by Maybach is even more nebulous. Surviving photographs confirm that Maybach did carry out driving trials with at least one VK 9.01 chassis fitted with their OG 20417 transmission. However, as with most of the other trials involving the VK 9.01, there are no records conveying the results of these trials.
More mysteriously, the VK 9.01 chassis was also used as a testbed for an 8-cylinder diesel engine developed by the M.A.N. factory at Augsburg. Originating from a Heeres Waffenamt request in early 1939 to develop a 180 horsepower diesel engine for tanks, M.A.N. designed a V-8 diesel engine with an output of 185 metric horsepower at 2600 rpm. In an internal report dated 20th February 1942, a senior engineer from M.A.N. stated that the diesel engine had been successfully tested in, among other vehicles, a VK 9.01, where it had performed satisfactorily. The report concludes that work is slated to continue on the development of the diesel engine in order to increase its output, but there are no further mentions of any alternative engines being tested in the 0-Serie VK 9.01.
The protracted development of the VK 9.01 highlights the problems inherent in using immature and unproven technology. Even though they were subjected to an extensive saga of tests and driving trials, the advanced transmissions used by the VK 9.01 were a dead end that would never find employment in subsequent projects. As the abysmal results from the Berka trial dramatically demonstrated, the VK 9.01 would never have been ready for planned mass production in November 1941; the design was simply too technologically immature to have been a reliable machine on the battlefield.
Hiding Behind the Frontlines: The VK 9.01 in Service
The unsuitability of the VK 9.01 for mass production and frontline use is apparent from its rather limited service in the Heer. Before the reduction of the 0-Serie contract and the fiasco at Berka, the VK 9.01 was intended to supersede the older variants of the Panzer II serving in the Panzer Divisions. These aspirations are evident in the plans to issue the VK 9.01 to some of the first elements of Rommel’s Afrika Korps. According to a status report detailing the conversion of the 33rd Infantry Division into the 15th Panzer Division, this new unit was to be issued 6 Panzer II n.A. before it left for North Africa. The fact that some photographs of the VK 9.01 clearly display the two-tone ‘Tropen’ (Tropical) camouflage pattern, consisting of Graugrün (RAL 7008) stripes on a background of Gelbbraun (RAL 8000), reinforces the idea that the VK 9.01 was initially slated for employment in the North African theatre of operations.
However, it is generally accepted that these plans did not come to fruition, and that the VK 9.01 never crossed the Mediterranean. Even though the report clearly stipulates that 6 VK 9.01 will be incorporated into the 15th Panzer Division, it is dated 1st February 1941, several months before any VK 9.01 chassis had actually been delivered from the M.A.N. factory. Moreover, the 15th Panzer Division arrived in North Africa in April 1941, at which point records indicate only a single complete VK 9.01 (chassis fitted with superstructure and turret) had been finished. It is therefore highly unlikely that the VK 9.01 formed part of the 15th Panzer Division’s first contingent, but it remains possible that some could have been shipped over at a later date. Even so, there are no further mentions of the Panzer II n.A. in this unit’s operational records, nor are there any published photographs that appear to show a VK 9.01 in North Africa. Added together, the evidence strongly suggests that the intention to deploy the VK 9.01 to North Africa was never realised, although the gaping holes in the history of the VK 9.01 preclude any definitive conclusions on this matter.
After this brief mention, the VK 9.01 vanishes from operational records. Based on the limited photographic evidence of this rare tank, it appears that most of them found their way into training units. Until the advent of the internet and the circulation of newly discovered photos being sold on internet auction sites, it was incorrectly assumed that the VK 9.01 never saw combat. However, every so often, photographs come to light which show the VK 9.01 in operation with troops on the Eastern Front. Unfortunately, it is impossible to glean substantial details from most of these photos, such as which units the tanks belonged to and the precise location in which they were operational.
Prime examples of the difficulties in parsing out such details are a series of unpublished photos mentioned in Panzer Tracts 2-2. According to Jentz and Doyle, these photographs belonged to a veteran from Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 5 of the 2.Panzer-Division, who photographed VK 9.01 tanks training in Germany and loaded on a train. These photos provide far more questions than answers. Did the VK 9.01 belong the 2.Panzer Division or another unit? Where was the train containing the VK 9.01 headed? Were the VK 9.01 attached to this unit ever used in combat? Until more research is carried out or new photographs come to light, these questions will remain unanswered.
Nevertheless, some pieces have been added to the VK 9.01 puzzle by Akira Takiguchi. In a short article published on his website, Mr Takiguchi shared a photograph showing that at least one VK 9.01, working in conjunction with troops from the Luftwaffe, Heer, Polizei, and local militias, participated in anti-partisan operations in the town of Grodek (also known as Horodek among various other names), located in present-day Belarus. Tactical markings on the VK 9.01 suggest that it belonged to a Panzerspähkompanie (armored reconnaissance company), but the specific unit remains unidentified. A second photograph was published by Takiguchi in April 2020, showing two VK 9.01s in this area, presumably belonging to the same Panzerspähkompanie. These photographs were captured in the spring of 1944, showing that the VK 9.01 did see combat behind the lines relatively late into the war.
Clearly, there is still much to be uncovered regarding the service life of the VK 9.01. In the absence of any surviving tanks or components, additional information must be unearthed from archives or period photographs. Even so, based on the limited information available, it appears that most of the VK 9.01s that were completed as tanks were used in areas where their limited firepower and armor protection were not such a liability, for purposes including training and combatting partisans.
The Heer’s Recycling Programme: The Fate of the VK 9.01 Turrets
Ironically, for a tank designed with mobility in mind, a considerable number of VK 9.01 turrets saw service as static emplacements than they did atop a tank. Throughout the Second World War, the Heer proved to be very adept at adapting obsolete or excess material to new purposes. As the contract for the 0-Serie VK 9.01 was reduced from 75 to 45 over the course of its development, the Heer found itself in possession of many surplus VK 9.01 turrets and superstructures that had already been completed by Daimler-Benz before the contracts were cut. Not content to leave these usable components languishing in storage, the Heer used these extra turrets to create more emplacements in their fortifications that lined the coasts and frontiers of Western Europe. These new positions were known as ‘Ring Stands’, which consisted of redundant tank turrets mounted on top of concrete or wooden platforms in positions where they could enhance the firepower of German defensive lines.
In total, 27 VK 9.01 turrets were recycled in this way. Asides from the concrete platform upon which they were mounted, the VK 9.01 turrets were otherwise unmodified. They retained the same armament as their tracked counterparts (one 2 cm KwK 38 and one coaxial 7.92 mm MG 34) and the armor protection was not increased. Similarly, the commander’s cupola fitted with 8 periscopes for all-round observation was not supplemented with additional optical devices. The only significant change was the ammunition capacity, which was greatly augmented by the additional space available inside the concrete stand. Compared to its mobile cousin, which had sufficient stowage capacity for 200 cannon rounds and 2,100 machinegun cartridges, the VK 9.01 mounted on a Ring Stand could hold up to 2,800 rounds for the cannon, as well as 24,000 rounds for the MG 34.
The designs for all of the various Ring Stands created by the Heer involved covering the bases underground so that only the turret protruded above ground level. In the case of the VK 9.01, the turret projected 580 mm high above the concrete base and had a firing height of approximately 190 mm. The design of the VK 9.01 turret also allowed for the guns to be depressed by 10 degrees and elevated up to 20 degrees for firing at targets. Thanks to their low silhouette and large ammunition reservoir, the VK 9.01 turrets mounted on Ring Stands proved to be a useful supplement to German fortifications, explaining why these turrets and those of other designs were widely employed for this purpose, as the threat of an Allied landing loomed over German-occupied France.
Of the 27 turrets that were given over to this purpose, 17 were completed by M.A.N., whilst the remaining 10 were outfitted by the Artillerie Werkstatt die Kommandantur Hill Süd. Whereas M.A.N. assembled turrets were completed with the original T.Z.F.10 binocular gunsight, the remaining ten turrets prepared by the Artillerie Werkstatt die Kommandantur Hill Süd were expediently fitted with the T.Z.F.4 monocular gunsight. The use of the T.Z.F.4 may have been due to a shortage of T.Z.F.10 gunsights, of which only 93 were produced in total during 1941 and 1942, with 30 set aside for the VK 16.01 0-Serie.
After being appropriately furnished by M.A.N. and the Artillerie Werkstatt die Kommandantur Hill Süd, the VK 9.01 turrets were installed in various sites across Western Europe. The most comprehensive report on the location of the Ring Stand turrets, composed on 26th March 1945, lists 16 turrets sent to Denmark, whilst 10 more were either positioned along the Atlantikwall spanning the northern French coastline, or the Westwall guarding Germany’s border with eastern France. Even though photographic evidence does at least confirm that VK 9.01 Ring Stands were based in Denmark, Jentz and Doyle note that the report does contain known errors, leaving open the possibility that the VK 9.01 Ring Stand may have been allocated in a different way to that presented by the report. Moreover, the report only accounts for 26 VK 9.01 turrets, yet records state that 27 were converted for use on Ring Stands. As there are no surviving VK 9.01 turrets mounted on Ring Stands, more detailed information on their positions is dependent upon further research into this subject.
Curiously, at least one VK 9.01 was recycled in an entirely different manner. During the trials of an experimental air-cooled diesel engine developed by the Czechoslovakian firm Tatra, a VK 9.01 turret was mounted on the VK 13.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell used to test this engine. In March 1944, VK 13.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell Nr. V.29 fitted with this VK 9.01 turret and the Tatra engine underwent off-road testing at Berka, which was followed by a trip from Prague to Eisenach in order to measure fuel consumption. The rationale behind fitting this chassis with a VK 9.01 turret is a mystery, but it appears to have been a unique occurrence. Given that the chassis was undergoing testing, the VK 9.01 turret may perhaps have been an expedient substitute for the lack of spare available VK 13.03 turrets or testing weights. Certainly, had the VK 13.03 Versuchs-Fahrgestell conducted the testing without a turret fitted, the testing results for fuel consumption and off-road performance would have been skewed by the fact that the tank would weigh considerably less minus its turret.
Another inexplicable link between the VK 9.01 and the VK 13.03 turrets is to be found in VK 13.03 turrets being stamped with turret numbers assigned to the VK 9.01. In one of the Panzer II Ausf.L ‘Luchs’ assembled by M.A.N. (chassis number 200103), the VK 13.03 turret assembled by Daimler-Benz carries turret number 150070, which would appear to be part of the VK 9.01 series, given that the VK 9.01 was assigned the chassis number band 150001-150075, whereas the VK 13.03 received the band ranging from 200101-200200. Whatever the true reasons behind these perplexing instances of intermingling happen to be, the degree of crossover between the two projects is unsurprising. Both were developed by M.A.N. and Daimler-Benz, and both were intended to be new models of Panzer II.
Dead End: The VK 9.01 in Retrospect
Ultimately, the VK 9.01 amounts to little more than a footnote in the wider history of German Second World War armored fighting vehicle design. Even though the automotive components designed for the VK 9.01 promised to revolutionize the performance of the Panzer II, the finished product failed to live up to the lofty expectations of its designers. Far from enhancing the mobility of the Panzer II, the new transmissions and steering units proved to be the bane of the VK 9.01 project, contributing to the tank’s unreliability and its abject failure in testing. It is therefore unsurprising that most of the technology associated with the VK 9.01 project would not go on to be used anywhere else. Indeed, the VK 13.03 (better known as the Panzer II Ausf.L ‘Luchs’) eventually eschewed its complex triple radius steering unit derived from the VK 9.01 for the less sophisticated but proven technology of a clutch-brake system.
These technological problems were exacerbated by the tendency of the engineers at Wa Prüf 6 to pursue multiple designs simultaneously, without a clear focus or priority. Consequently, the VK 9.01 had been superseded after merely two years in development by the VK 9.03, a bigger, more powerful iteration of the VK 9 series, which would itself be supplanted by the elusive VK 9.04 and VK 9.05. This meant that several similar designs were developed at the same time for exactly the same purpose by the same engineers working at the same company: a perfect illustration of the propensity for German engineers to experiment with new technology rather than focus on improving existing designs. Despite the clear indications that the existing armament and armour protection of the Panzer II would be inadequate on the battlefields of the 1940s, the engineers involved in the VK 9 series neglected these considerations, frittering away time and money on experimenting with novel drivetrains.
The product of this wasted effort was the underwhelming Panzer II Ausf.G, a testament to the widening gulf between German tank designers and battlefield requirements. This tank was a far cry from the light tank of the future, fit for little more than training or fighting against partisans behind the lines. Conceived as a vast leap forward for future German light tank design, these grandiose aspirations for the VK 9.01 project ironically culminated in an unsatisfactory technological dead end.
Illustration of the Panzerkampfwagen II Ausführung G by Alexe Pavel and Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin.
4.24 x 2.39 x 2.05 metres
3 Men (Commander/Gunner, Radio Operator, and Driver)
Water-cooled gasoline Maybach HL 45 motor producing 150 HP at 3800 rpm
VG 15319, or OG 20417, or SMG 50, 14.3 HP/ton
Triple radius differential steering unit LGR 15319 or LGL 15319
67 km/h (regulated to 65 km/h)
On road: 200 km
Cross Country: 125 km
Torsion bar, 30 cm ground clearance
1x 2 cm KwK 38 auto-cannon (200 rounds)
x coaxial 7.92 mm MG 34(P) machine gun (2100 rounds)
Elevation/Depression: +20/-10 Degrees
Sight: T.Z.F.10 binocular sight (2.5 x 25 degrees)
Armor (hull/turret front)
30 mm frontal hull
14.5 mm + 5.5 mm hull side
14.5 mm rear hull
14.5 mm superstructure side
30 mm gun mantlet
30 mm turret front
14.5 mm turret sides and rear
The standard reference work on the VK 9.01 is Panzer Tracts No.2-2 Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.G, H, J, L, and M: Development and Production from 1938 to 1943. Written by Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle, the doyens of German interwar and Second World War AFV history, this book contains the most extensive account of the VK 9.01 project in print. Based on extensive research into primary sources, the accuracy and level of detail in this book is unparalleled, making it an essential port of call for anyone interested in further reading about the VK 9.01. All publications concerning the VK 9.01, including this article, are indebted to this book, without which most of the details presented here would simply be unavailable. Companion volumes in this series provide equally comprehensive and groundbreaking treatments of their respective subjects.
Other reference books which cover the VK 9.01 should be treated with caution. Many of those published before Panzer Tracts 2-2, particularly Spielberger’s history of the Panzer II, contain inaccurate assumptions and misleading information which were corrected by Jentz and Doyle. Most of the other books mentioning this tank contain only a superficial glance at the VK 9.01, reflecting the neglect of this AFV in the available literature. Until new archival research is conducted and the results published by other authors, Panzer Tracts 2-2 is unlikely to be surpassed as the essential reference on this subject.
Yuri Pasholok’s online article concerning the Panzer II Ausf.G (available in its original Russian and also translated into English) is, despite the occasional error, an excellent summary of the information presented in Panzer Tracts 2-2. Read in conjunction with the other articles in Pasholok’s Panzer I and Panzer II series, this article is also helpful for contextualising the development of the VK 9.01, by tracing its lineage to earlier designs and its links to other contemporaneous projects.
The combat service of the Panzer II Ausf.G is perhaps the largest blank spot in the history of this tank. Akira Takiguchi’s online article highlights the difficulties confronting those interested in this obscure subject. This short article investigates one particular Ausf.G photographed in combat and provides several extremely interesting photographs from Takiguchi’s private collection.
The author also wishes to express his thanks to Hilary Doyle for responding to queries concerning the ‘Ausf.G1, G3 und G4’ mystery.
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